BY TOM TOPOUSIS
Ever since my first trip to Greece more than 20 years ago, I’ve been on the hunt for a restaurant here in New York that served Greek cuisine the way I remembered it in the neighborhood restaurants that I visited in Athens and on Crete.
Kalamaki, a recent addition to Bayside’s dining scene, is just such a place. This is truly Greek soul food, where the chefs stick to one of the basic anthems of Greek cooking — the ingredients are absolutely fresh and of the best quality.
Even the name, Kalamaki, is about a simple food done well. It means meat on a stick, or skewer. Kalamaki even prides itself on preparing what it calls Greek street food, the sort of fare you could grab to go if you were roaming around Athens. And at Kalamaki, the skewered meats are sensational. Deliciously seasoned beef, chicken or pork. Order three skewers for $6.25, or 20 for $39.00 — the price gets cheaper the more you buy!
Owner Aris Konstantinidis, a veteran of the corporate food industry, said he decided to open Kalamaki “out of my frustration that I can’t get a good souvlaki here.” He recalled the way skewered meats and souvlaki are served back in Greece — smaller portions that are bursting with flavor.
“Here, we make them the way we make them in Greece,” he said.
And he didn’t leave the task of cooking to neophytes. Aris hired two chefs — brothers Niko and Jimmy Syros — from the Greek winter resort town of Arachova, Greece. The brothers arrived with a treasure trove of hearty recipes, including the chef’s special, Giaourtlou Politico.
At $15.50, the Giaourtlou Politico includes portions of grilled ground lamb and beef infused with herbs and spices, served on a bed of pita bread with strained yogurt and a zesty tomato sauce flavored with peppers, onions and garlic. Accompanying the dish are two yogurt dips, one flavored with dill and the other with red pepper.
This is a dish that will satisfy skiers and hikers back in the mountain resort, Arachavo, and it is remarkably different than dishes served at most Greek restaurants here.
Another example of how Kalamaki sticks to the Greek concept of cooking and dining is the Horiatiki “Villager’s” Salad. Here the salad is prepared just the way it would be in Greece. It’s not a collection of cheese, olives and vegetables over a giant pile of lettuce. In fact, there is no lettuce.
Kalamaki uses only plum tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives with a slice of imported Greek feta on top. The salad arrives like a piece of sculpture, ingredients layered carefully together. Simple, yet incredibly satisfying.
Appetizers are also outstanding, including Grilled Feta. At $5.75, the Greek barrel feta is grilled with tomato, pepper, olive oil and herbs. My cousin, who never eats feta, practically finished the appetizer by himself.
Yogurt is the bedrock of Kalamaki’s cuisine, served in or alongside most dishes, or as a dessert with an assortment of toppings.
But this is not just any yogurt. Konstantinidis initially wanted to make yogurt on site, but the approval process was far too difficult. So he searched high and low for a source, before finding a producer near Toronto, Canada, that produced a yogurt that met his standards. It is, without doubt, the finest yogurt I have ever had, creamy and yet light.
Be sure to try a yogurt dessert. There are nine different topping combinations of nuts, fruit and nectars. We had it served with apple, cinnamon, walnuts and brown sugar. I found myself getting every last bit on my spoon, leaving Kalamaki with the memory of one last terrific flavor.
2906 172nd St., Bayside