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Situated on a pleasant corner in the heart of Kurtuluş is an unlikely yet warmly welcomed addition to this neighborhood’s excellent food scene: Horo Burger, which only features Sloppy Joes on its menu. While the name of this American classic conjures pleasant memories of family dinner for some and horrifying flashbacks from the school cafeteria for others, Horo’s take on the Sloppy Joe is faithful yet elevated, just as put-together as it is messy.

The owner and sole employee of Horo is 41-year-old Cihan Turan, a third-generation Kurtuluş resident from a family that has lived in the neighborhood for more than half a century. Feeling burned out from working in the advertising industry for 12 years, Turan had long yearned to open his own small restaurant – a common dream, he said, among many of his colleagues. Contemplating a career change, he recalled Sloppy Joes standing out to him as a unique meal in the American films he watched as a child.

As if as a sign, the sandwiches coincidentally popped up again in a film he was watching, and weeks later in a recipe on Facebook, which Turan replicated at home. He had an epiphany: Turan found that the flavors matched appropriately with the Turkish palate, where savory, spiced ground beef is the star of many dishes. He wondered why nobody here was making Sloppy Joes (though he might not have known that the dish is not a staple on U.S. menus either). A lightbulb flicked, and the concept for Horo began: a restaurant specializing in a high-quality version of the American classic, with the creative addition of regional Turkish ingredients.

The recipe that Turan finalized includes ground beef brisket spiked with a secret blend of sauces and spices, roasted onions, relish, beet aioli, custom-made buns from a bakery in Kurtuluş and a sleeper ingredient: tulum peyniri, a sharp, crumbly white sheep’s cheese sourced from the mountainous eastern province of Erzincan, where Turan’s family and thousands of other Kurtuluş residents trace their roots. As such, it’s out of the question to find bad tulum in the neighborhood, Turan said.

“I would put it on everything, on pasta like it was parmesan, and on salad. I think it works everywhere, and it’s my favorite cheese,” Turan said. Naturally, it had to be added to the Sloppy Joe. One of the three options on the menu features cheddar, but we have found over the course of several visits that tulum works perfectly with the messy mixture. The result is a rewarding mix of flavors across the board: savory, sweet, creamy, spicy and acidic. This is not your lunch lady’s Friday special. It is served with a crunchy pickle on the side and a teaspoon to scoop up the morsels that inevitably seep out of the burger onto the plate.

The name Horo comes from horror, Turan’s movie genre of choice, and the shop adheres to an ’80s and ’90s American horror film concept, a retro aesthetic which is popular among a younger crowd in Turkey. University-aged people make up most of Turan’s customers, most of whom have discovered Horo via its flashy, well-curated Instagram page, a product of Turan’s experience in his former line of work.

“When I opened this place I said, ‘I’m leaving advertising behind and I’ll never do it again,’ but I couldn’t let it go; it stuck with me,” Turan said. These skills came in handy to bolster his survival, as Turan rented the space in which Horo is located at an unfortunate time: March 2020. He spent five months unsure of whether to open the restaurant or not before doing so in October of that year, relying on delivery orders as local Covid-19 restrictions prohibited dining in.

Horo also pays tribute to the neighborhood that Turan and his family grew up in. On the door it says “Since 1896,” and the shop is lavishly decked out in red and black. These are the founding date and the colors of the Kurtuluş Sports Club, the oldest of its kind in Turkey, located on the other side of the quarter, a living symbol of its enduring cosmopolitanism as the club was established and still maintained by members of the local Greek and Armenian community.

Meanwhile, Turan is steadfast in his support of fellow small business owners in the area: “From the butcher to the bakery and the greengrocer to the market, I buy everything in Kurtuluş. I want this to be a Kurtuluş brand, and I want the tradesmen of Kurtuluş to benefit as well,” he explains. At Horo, the prices are reasonable, the quality is high and the money stays in the neighborhood.

On the end of the first block one street down from the main Kurtuluş Avenue, Horo is in the midst of an area brimming with new restaurants, cafes and bars, which have benefited from the surging popularity of the area over the past five to 10 years. Not all have committed to the level of quality and aesthetic appeal as Horo, and many will close as quickly as they opened. Having survived the pandemic, Turan’s shop has become a small landmark in the neighborhood, and we are certain it will stick around.

Published on June 17, 2024

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