Southwestern Twist on Mediterranean
By Tori Couch
Photography by Ron Jenkins
Ferah Tex-Med restaurant founders guess right on Southlake’s taste for Mediterranean-Southwestern fusion
When Ferah Tex-Med restaurant co-founders Jeremy Berlin, Burak Özcan and Stephanie Özcan opened a second location in Southlake last July, they thought it would be well-received based on past success.
The Garland location opened in June 2019 and soon became a local favorite. Burak Özcan, Ferah’s executive chef and head of operations for Garland, noted one couple has visited every Friday except for two. And one of those times, the couple picked up a to-go order.
Southlake residents are finding Ferah just as inviting.
“It’s a little scary, in a good way,” Özcan said recently, while sitting in the Southlake restaurant’s private dining room. “If we have 10 people walk in this door — we are still very new — at least six or seven are regulars.”
Berlin, head of operations for Southlake, added that they have seen customers become regulars very quickly.
“The week before we went on vacation, two ladies discovered us on a Monday,” he said. “I saw them Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
The restaurant could have even more repeat customers after winning a local best new restaurant award for 2023.
Ferah’s presence in Southlake extends beyond the restaurant walls. The upcoming Mimosa Stroll & Shop at Southlake Town Square on May 21 features brunch bites from Ferah.
Berlin will represent Ferah at Southlake’s MasterWorks Concert Series on May 19 as the guest chef for event food vendor 1956 Pizza. His pizza will be a spinoff of the restaurant’s fried goat cheese, Berlin said. Ferah is also donating its proceeds from sales at the concert series to earthquake recovery efforts in Özcan’s native Turkey, which suffered a catastrophic earthquake Feb. 6. Both Ferah locations also donated revenue from one night to recovery efforts.
“We are very active when it comes to those types of events, because we strongly believe we have to give it back to whoever needs it,” Özcan said. “The next day we can be in their position. We cannot turn our heads away.”
Ferah fuses Mediterranean cuisine and Texas-style cooking and is the result of Burak Özcan’s lifelong dream to open a restaurant. He and his wife, Stephanie, and Berlin founded Ferah Tex-Med Kitchen in September 2018 and opened the first restaurant less than a year later. Stephanie is head of marketing and customer experience and designs the restaurant interiors. Heidi Berlin, Jeremy’s wife, is community relations director.
Burak Özcan, 35, attended culinary school in Turkey and worked at Mediterranean resorts. In 2009, he left for the United States at age 21, and worked with chef Stephan Pyles, who has been called the father of Southwestern cuisine.
The similarities between Mediterranean and Southwestern cooking inspired the Tex-Med menu.
When asked how to describe Mediterranean cuisine to someone who has never eaten it before, Özcan deflects to Berlin for an outside perspective.
“Healthy, fresh and original,” Berlin said. “What I mean by original, so much of the world’s food started in the Mediterranean. So much of every cuisine around the world, almost all European cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, North African cuisine, American, it all comes (from there). The world started there with people and food.”
Berlin spent 25 years in the hotel industry. He hired Özcan twice while working as a general manager at food service hotels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When Özcan mentioned the concept for Ferah, Berlin jumped aboard.
He worked behind the scenes before coming on full time in May 2022.
Berlin and Burak Özcan recently visited Turkey, picking up new ideas for the restaurant and giving Berlin firsthand exposure to the Mediterranean diet. He was already familiar with the cuisine, but the trip confirmed that fresh, authentic food creates a more impactful meal, Berlin said.
“By going back to the original or origin of where a lot of our food started and by making it whole or pure, it ends up becoming something someone tastes in a restaurant, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Berlin said. “It’s because they’re not eating that way.“
Take Ferah’s Atom Dip, which Berlin calls the “salsa of the Mediterranean.’’
It requires Turkish suzme yogurt, roasted garlic, dried chiles and olive oil. The recipe is simple, yet customers are constantly asking about the ingredients. The five-ingredient house dressing also generates customer interest.
It’s because both dishes follow a certain rule.
“Five ingredients max,” Özcan said. “Anything more than five, either you’re hiding something or you’re making something (up). It’s simple.”
Everything about Ferah has a relaxed, welcoming vibe. Walking in the front door, guests are greeted by a blue and white “evil eye” near the bar area. Blue-trimmed plates and small sun-shaped mirrors hang on the walls, but the decor does not feel overwhelming.
The menu does not have pictures or mountains of text describing the food. It just lists the dishes and ingredients under the appropriate headers. Menu items rarely change because customers find their favorite foods and stick with them, Özcan said.
“As a chef, I want to introduce more items,” he said. “Literally, I change once, I make the guests upset. Quite a bit of them.”
Özcan can share new foods with customers through the Chef’s Inspirations menu item, which changes daily, and community events such as the exclusive multi course Chef’s Tasting experience. Ferah also offers catering throughout Dallas-Fort Worth.
Berlin said the customers’ passion for the food has surprised him.
But that’s fine, considering that Özcan and Berlin hold similar feelings.
“Mediterranean food is a passion of ours,” Berlin said. “It’s, in our opinion, the best food in the world. It’s healthy, it’s earthy, but, to many people, it’s intimidating. That’s really the secret sauce of Ferah is to bring comfort for Texans, familiarity to the Mediterranean dishes.”