So here we are, in New York City about to go into re-enforced Covid restrictions again for a while. But the whole world is in the same boat really, on and off. I know that my family in Britain have had it even worse, and to an extent my brother in Amsterdam too.
We all want restaurants and bars/pubs to survive! Marie & I are lucky in that we can get pick-up or delivery from restaurants two or three times a week when in lockdown. Though that’s where we splash the cash. We run a twenty year-old car, for example, and aren’t so much interested in spending money on some other material items. We’d say just do the best you can financially to support restaurants if indoor dining is lost again for a few weeks or months. We both feel that indoor dining shouldn’t have to be taken away again, so long as social distancing, masking ya-da-ya-da is observed. Long Island in NY does fine with lesser restrictions, for example.
Anyway, we can still celebrate food as best we can.
Some local shout outs
You may have noticed that restaurants have upped their game in the Covid era! Not just more generous portions, but higher quality food. Near us, so many have been so good. Just to name a few, these have been spectacularly good whether dining in, dining out – and major credit for some wonderful outdoor seating set-ups too – ordering delivery or picking up):
Bagel Time, Whitestone
It’s far more than bagels, which is just a fraction of the menu. Creative, stacked sandwiches and salads and then there’s Cynthia’s ever-changing spectrum of house-made baked goods, especially her giant cookies. There’s usually a new one in the ‘Cynthilada’ cookie family every couple of weeks!
Nana Good Eats, Whitestone, Queens
“Nana” means mint, by the way! Modern style, casual Israeli cafe in Queens by us. Very friendly. They call me Johnny Depp, so just say “Johnny Depp sent me”. Fantastic falafel, and we also love, love, love the crispy Moroccan cigars and the pillowy malawach sandwich.
El Patron, Auburndale, Queens
Latin-American cuisine. We used to live close-by many years ago, so knew it well already. We only ordered in once, months ago, but it was cosmic. Succulent, seared steak. Giant, very delicious boozy drinks too which they deliver in these oversize plastic cups
Kalamaki, Bayside, Queens
Not a Greek diner, but more of a cafe-style Greek restauarnt. Terrific ribs, and they also do rich, feta filled beef patties and other tasty dishes. Very, very friendly.
The best Indian restaurant local to us, I would say. All the classics, and a great go-to for us to get take-away in Covid lockdowns. Beautiful inside.
I don’t know why they mysteriously give you half a free poppadom, as opposed to a whole one!
Piccolo Sogno, Bayside
This feels Italian-Italian more than American-Italian. Cosy inside, with lovely staff and the chef/owner sometimes goes around the tables to chat. I’m addicted to their puttanesca! Really nice back garden patio too.
Ginger & Lemongrass, Whitestone
Who’d have thought we’d get a Vietnamese restaurant in Whitestone! Incredible flavours. We love the pho, and aim to try more from their menu. We always go for their lunch specials, but we’ll try it in the evening sometime. They have a liquor license at last!
The Harrison, Floral Park (Lawn Guyland)
The Harrison is so classy. An all-American bistro style restaurant. Immaculate and classic inside.
There is also ‘Harry’s’ (the Little Harrison), which is the serving window at the side of the restaurant so you can order casually and eat at an outside table on the curbside.
Tutto Calcio, Whitestone
This is becoming a little gem in Whitestone. A dazzling array of Italian savoury and sweet treats. There’s a soccer (I say football) theme. Aptly, there’s a giant Maradona drawing on the wall.
There’s also the diners, of course. I could go on and on and on! Don’t feel too bad if you put on the Covid ten pounds again. It’s understandable right now.
And then there’s home cooking, if you like to cook which I do [if you’re not into complex recipes there’s always crock pots, which are brilliant and which anyone can manage to cook with]. Today, I’m using my late mom’s wonderful, hand written recipe book to make one of our favourites: her moussaka recipe. There’s absolutely no Greeks in my family, by the way. We’re all just Brummies like Ozzy Osbourne. But mum made her sublime version of moussaka when we were growing up. It’s slightly more casserole-like I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional Greek, set kind of course but we like it even better when it’s oozing with cheesy bechamel sauce. Here is my mum’s recipe below, anyway. Nothing else tastes quite like it. Certainly not lasagne, even though that can be almost as delicious if done right!
2 tbl spoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed or sliced thin
1 ½ lb (or 2lb, if you like a lot of meat) of chopped (“minced” in the UK) lamb. If you can’t get lamb, chopped/minced beef is still great.
2 cans whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon rosemary if using lamb
2 eggplants (aubergines), sliced. I sometimes use baby eggplant because I prefer smaller pieces of eggplant. If so, get the equivalent of 2 large eggplants.
2 large potatoes, sliced at about ¼ inch thickness.
1 small onion.
1 bay leaf
(you don’t have to use the above 3 ingredients; it’s optional)
½ pint milk
½ oz butter
½ oz flour
3-4 tablespoons cream (optional)
cheddar cheese, or other hard cheese (as much as you want, within reason)
1. Lay paper towels over the sliced eggplant/aubergines to take the moisture out.
2. lightly fry the chopped/minced lamb or beef until light brown (season as you go)
3. lightly par boil the potatoes so that they’re just slightly soft but firm enough not to break during cooking
4. lightly fry the eggplant slices
5. use a large casserole dish or a large foil pan, and layer the eggplant, potatoes, meat, onion and tomatoes. Start and end with the eggplant.
6. make the bechamel:
Lightly heat the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns in the milk in a saucepan for 20 minutes. Take out the solids by straining. This is all optional, but the main thing is:
Melt the butter in the saucepan. Remove pan from the heat, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and flour are blended.
Gradually stir in the milk; keep the pan off the heat or the sauce will thicken and be uneven. Season to taste.
Return the pan to the heat and stir steadily until sauce thickens. Simmer gently for 4-5 minutes. It should be smooth, with the flour natutally blended in.
Now, whilst still hot, put in a crap load of cheddar cheese (we like extra sharp). Put the pan back on on a low setting and stir/melt in all the cheese.
Pour the bechamel over all the ingredients, and slap in the oven on about, uhm…about 375 should do it and for around an hour maybe, but just check it from time to time! It should be browned on top.