A rustic Turkish restaurant serving labneh with pickled beets, topik garbanzo bean dumplings stuffed with caramelized onions, and raki anise brandy is coming to Clinton Street this fall. Lokanta, which means “restaurant” in Turkish, will take over the former Off the Waffle space across the street from Magna.
The popup-turned-restaurant from Umut Matkap, who previously worked at LeChon and Kachinka, is not strictly vegetarian or vegan, but it won’t rely heavily on meat. Instead, the rotating seasonal menu features mostly marinated, cold-served vegetable dishes. When artichokes are in season, diners are likely to find enginar — orange juice and garlic-infused artichokes hearts topped with potatoes, sweet peas, and fresh dill — on the menu. “This is what I want to eat in the summer. I don’t want a vegan burger on a hot day,” Matkap says.
The chef’s goal is to share his favorite Turkish dishes, while honoring the diversity of the country’s culinary landscape, especially the influence of Syrian, Armenian, Alevi, and other cuisines. Matkap emphasizes that his food is not Mediterranean; falafel, gyros, and hummus won’t be on Lokanta’s menu, for instance. “I’m 40. I was 35 when I had falafel for the first time — when I moved here.”
In addition to Turkish wines and beers, Lokanta’s beverage menu will include raki, a triple-distilled, 90-to-100 proof brandy made of fresh grapes and anise seeds. Served in a straight, narrow glass, the licorice-flavored spirit is commonly known as “lion’s milk,” as it turns milky white when mixed with water and ice. “When I announced the restaurant, five or six people asked me if I would be serving raki,” Matkap says, with a laugh. “You sip it with food, and to stop dehydration, you drink water on the side.”
Originally from Antakya, Matkap moved to Portland in 2016. Coming from Istanbul, where he had lived for 11 years, he says Portland was a shocking change of pace. Matkap initially launched Lokanta as a pop-up at Feastly in 2017, but after the pop-up incubator closed, he began searching for a brick-and-mortar home for his family-style Turkish cooking. However, Matkap says he and his wife, Kelsey Lundgren, experienced a discouraging amount of racism and discrimination, both in the process of finding a realtor and landlord and as a chef and business owner in Portland. “In the US, I’ve had some business owners take my time, experience, and knowledge, and not give me credit, while appropriating and making money off Turkish food,” Matkap writes on Instagram. “I’ve been told I have an accent and also that I speak English ‘pretty good’ for a foreigner. I’ve been told I can pass for white, as if that’s an honor.” Nonetheless, the couple finally landed their own space, and they plan to open the restaurant before the year ends.
How that restaurant will look and feel — at least when it comes to service — remains to be seen. In Turkey, a meal might last for hours as family and friends gather to share food, drinks, and stories. Umut and Lundgren’s vision for the restaurant was to recreate that experience, but with COVID-19, it is unclear what type of dine-in service Lokanta will be able to offer in the fall. Until then, Matkap’s Turkish flavors will appear pop-ups across the city, including at LeChon, Frank’s Wine Bar, and Sisters Gourmet Deli. Dates will be announced on Instagram soon; Lokanta will open at 2601 SE Clinton Street.
• Lokanta [Instagram]