Earlier this year, my wife and her daughter ended up at a place in Rock Island by the name of Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant. They talked highly of the little place that served American-ized Persian food including gyros and chicken kabobs. On a Monday night date night earlier this summer, my wife and I decided to head over toward Sultan's so I could give it a try. The only problem was that we had been experiencing some heavy rain over the previous days and we found they were closed due to flood problems. (It turned out it was a backed up drain that flooded their establishment.) Two weeks later, we were over on the Illinois side doing some errands and decided to see if Sultan was open. It wasn't - they were still dealing with damage and clean up from the flooding. Finally, not long ago, Cindy suggested going to Sultan again. I said, "Call over there first. I'm not going to drive over just to see if they're open." She did and they were open. So, the third time was a charm for us going to Sultan for dinner.
The owner of Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant is Ashkon Ajidh. He comes from a background in the restaurant industry where his parents - originally from Azerbaijan - ran a number of restaurants in the Middle East, primarily in Pakistan and Turkey. Moving the to the U.S. a few years ago, the younger Ajidh continued his family's legacy by opening Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant in September of 2011.
His biggest hurdle was trying to figure out how to "American-ize" the Persian foods that he was so fond of. A lot of it had to do with logistics - some Persian foods weren't available to him. One of his favorite foods consisted of duck, walnuts and pomegranate paste. Not many Americans are big on duck, and farm-raised ducks are expensive. Plus, he couldn't easily find pomegranate paste on a regular basis. Ajidh had to adapt to what he had available in terms of spices and herbs to come up with a menu at Sultan.
Sultan is also a haven for vegetarians in the Quad Cities area. In an article in the Rock Island Dispatch-Argus, Ajidh estimated that 40 percent of his clientele were vegetarians. Sultan features Bell Pepper Dolmah - a baked green bell pepper filled with a mixture of split peas, cracked wheat, and basmati rice with a special blend herbs and seasonings; and a vegetarian sampler plate that features two falafel patties, kookoo sabzi (a Persian souffle) topped with cucumber sauce, cooked bell peppers, and hummus, all served with basmati rice topped with sumac.
Cindy had brought home some gyro meat and a healthy helping of basmati rice after her first visit. She said, "The portions were huge and I couldn't eat all of my gyro plate." I heated the gyro meat and the basmati rice up in the microwave and I thought they were both pretty good. Cindy said that they wouldn't be as good as served at Sultan, so I was eager to get over there to give it a try.
Around 6:30 on a beautiful Monday evening a few weeks ago, we pulled into Sultan's parking lot located next to the K Mart on Blackhawk Road on the south side of Rock Island. (see map) We were greeted by a young man with tousled red hair behind the counter. He asked if we'd been there before - of course, Cindy had and I hadn't - and he told her, "OK, well, you know the drill."
She turned to me and said, "We find our seats, look through the menu, then go up to the counter to order. Then they bring the food out to us." OK, simple enough.
The small and cozy restaurant that seats about 40 people had a small crowd in there the night we were there. There was a group of people toward the front, another group of people toward the back and we sat at a booth along the windows. There's a bar in Sultan that Ajidh and friends built earlier this year that makes the place even more cozy - as in cramped. But they have a full bar including a number of beers, mixed drinks and wine to choose from. I noticed that they had three varieties of beers from the Lagunitas Brewery in California. I was pretty impressed that they had Lagunitas beers.
I pretty much knew what I was going to get - the same gyro plate that Cindy tried to eat on her own a few months prior. For $9.99, it comes with gyro meat, sliced tomatoes, chopped onions, basmati rice, and tzatiki sauce with a single pita bread.
Cindy was sort of torn between a couple things - one was the Shevid Baghali Polo, a skewer of marinated grilled chicken breast served with basmati rice mixed with dill, lima beans, and homemade special seasonings with a skewer of grilled chopped onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. But she ended up picking out the Adas Polo - a grilled marinated chicken breast with basmati rice mixed with lentils and special seasonings. A skewer of the chopped onions, bell peppers and tomatoes came with it.
We also ordered an appetizer of garlic hummus and pita bread for $3.99. I ordered a Lagunitas India Pale Ale and Cindy ordered a house cabernet. The only problem was that they had sold out of the cabernet over the weekend and we were told by Ashkon Ajidh that he doesn't get his liquor shipments until Tuesday. She asked if he had a merlot and he said, "Oh, yes. I surely do."
The pita bread and hummus came out first. It turned out that we probably shouldn't have gotten the appetizer because of all the food that we were going to receive a little later on. The appetizer featured two flat pita breads - piping hot - cut into quarter triangles. A large bowl of garlic hummus with a pitted black olive on top sat next to the pita triangles. I don't really care for hummus all that much, but I will say that the garlic hummus at Sultan was pretty damn good. It had a great garlic taste, but not overpowering. The hummus spread easily on the warm pita triangles. It was a good start to the meal.
I had finished my Lagunitas IPA and went up to the counter to get another one before we got our food. The young kid said, "Uh, you got the last cold Lagunitas IPA. We forgot to restock the beer from the weekend." He said that he had the Lagunitas Censored beer - the original name for the beer, Kronik, was censored by the bureaucrats at the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms because it was too close to an urban slang term for marijuana. (Kronic is actually a marijuana-type plant that emanated from New Zealand which is legal to smoke in many places around the world.) It's a very smooth copper ale that I like to drink from time to time.
The young red-haired guy brought out my piping hot pita bread on a plate, then out came Cindy's chicken kabob with the seasoned basmati rice with lentils covering nearly all the plate and a small skewer of veggies (below left). Then a moment later he came out with my gyros plate (below right).
I was going to make my own gyro, but before I began to put it together on the pita bread, I tried the gyro meat. It had a very good flavor to the meat, slightly salty, but very tasty. The onions and sliced tomatoes were very fresh and flavorful, as well.
I made up my own gyro using only about half the gyro meat that was on my plate, while using all of the tomato slices and much of the chopped onions. After I was brought more tzatiki sauce, I scooped a couple containers full out on top of the gyro.
The pita bread was soft, warm and chewy. It was very good with a slightly toasty taste. The combination of the gyro meat, veggies and tzatiki sauce was a wonderful taste. The meat was salty - not as salty as the gyro meat at Uncle Pete's, but a bit more salty than the one I had at Dr. Gyros a couple three weeks before. Overall, the gyro was very good. It think it had something to do with the pita bread. Like a bun can make or break a good burger, I think the same thing comes into play with how good the pita bread is with the gyro meat.
After eating all of the gyro and the remaining gyro meat on my plate, there was no way that I would be able to finish my basmati rice. In fact, I don't think there was any way I could even take three bites of the basmati rice, I was so stuffed. From what I had, it was very good. I ended up getting a small box to put most of the rice into to take home for leftovers.
Cindy described her grilled marinated chicken breast as "delicious". She had already stolen a couple long strips of gyro meat from my plate before she offered me a taste of her chicken. The outside of the chicken was a little tough from the grill, but the inside was moist and very flavorful. I had a bit of her seasoned basmati rice with the lentils and, quite actually, I couldn't really tell what the seasoning was or if it even heightened the taste sensation of the rice.
The third time going to Sultan was definitely the charm for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the food, I was impressed with their beer selections, the people were friendly, and even though it was a little cramped, I did like the cozy atmosphere. Overall, it was an excellent value - we got a LOT of food for under $25 bucks. Actually, probably too much food as I was really stuffed afterward and had food to take home. Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant may not be authentic Persian or Mediterranean food, but it's close. Damn close. (Photo at left courtesy Trip Advisor.)
(Update July 2016 - My wife and I went over to Sultan one evening on a recent Monday night, but forgot that they were closed that day. A little over two weeks later, we went over on a Friday evening and we were bummed to find a "For Lease" sign in the window and that Sultan was closed down. Really sad to see this place close up.)