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09 September 2020

Green Garden Buffet

CHAD πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡©

[COVID-19 UPDATE: Born into the world during a pandemic, Green Garden Buffet knows no other way of business. They have recently added a small covered eating area to the parking space in front, allowing customers to sit down with their meals and eat immediately.]

For the first time in 20 years of scanning new businesses in and around the five boroughs, the flag of Chad is waving in the wind under a small awning in the East Village. The representation is from the chef and owner of the small restaurant, who hails from the large, land-locked nation in north-central Africa.


As the name suggests, most business here is done via the buffet-style steam table and sold at $9.99/pound. There is a menu, that also describes the kitchen as "French style," but it is easier just to come inside and ask to see everything on offer on any given day. The proprietor will be happy to explain it all and show her dishes off.

On multiple visits, there always seemed to be a delicious-looking whole tilapia ready to go, but since foods had to travel and do a bit of sitting before they could be consumed, an array of smaller bites from the steam table were combined for just over a pound's worth of lunch.


The focus was on the stewed spinach and beef dish (above), which was a creamy and rich exciting find. If another lunch is put together and this is available, the portion will have to be doubled at least. Sitting on a bed of tasty yellow rice, her vegetables are all more complex than they might appear. The sauteed cabbage is full of onions and garlic, while both the zucchini and okra make perfect complements.

If it is not automatically offered, ask for the homemade hot sauce to give everything the final kick.

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03 September 2020

The Greek Pie Factory

GREECE πŸ‡¬πŸ‡·

[COVID-19 UPDATE: Without much space to sit inside to begin with, not much has changed here and most business is takeout. They do have a couple tables with an umbrella set up on nice days as seen above.]

If you are cruising east down the Sunrise Highway just outside of New York City, it is not hard to find simple Greek fare. Plug that into Google Maps and an array of options are presented. But there is one small gem that stands out from the diners and gyro spots, located on a corner just one block south of the thoroughfare.

What also stands out is the story of its owners, more recent arrivals than many Greeks in New York. The husband and wife who own the shop left Greece during the economic crisis that began ten years ago, leaving behind their restaurant in the north of the country that they had run for 25 years.


After a few years in their new country, the couple decided to use their skills again and The Greek Pie Factory was born in June 2015. Although everything here is fresh and made daily, thankfully they put the reference at what they are best at right in the name.

Depending on ingredients, these come in many names in Greece but are simply "hand made Greek pies" here, priced at an unbelievably economical $3/each and made round and bulging. A most classic version of spanakopita can be seen in front with hints of green from the spinach it is filled with. Also in there is feta, onion, and egg, combining to create one of the best you can find in the area.


The other pies were filled with leeks and cheese and another spinach and feta which also added chicken. All of them were insanely good.

Another section of the menu is filled with "Chef's Daily Traditional Meals," and should not be missed for more great deals. The lamb gyro platter ($9.50, below) comes with thinly sliced strips of gyro, buttery rice, lemon potatoes, salad, some of there freshly made bread and pita, and tzatziki sauce.


Other options are favorites like souvlaki and comfort foods like mousaka. It seems they cover just about all the bases, and if these first tastes are reproduced across the menu there is a lot here to be excited about.

Valley Stream residents sure do have a gem.

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VALLEY STREAM Long Island
83a Roosevelt Avenue

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31 August 2020

Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn

GERMANY πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ

[COVID-19 UPDATE: The very cozy wood-paneled interior and beautiful bar are unfortunately closed at the moment, but the biergarten is in full swing for lunch and dinner. Staff does a great job with masks and everything is distanced quite well.]

There is never a bad time to talk about the meaningless of the word "authenticity" when describing food. Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn might be one of the greatest examples of a place that will send people's thoughts in opposite directions, but a good starting point.

The biergarten is especially inviting in 2020.

Certainly this is not the place you should bring your friends who are visiting from Germany, they will probably have a lot to say about your choice. But is this authentic? With absolute certainty, yes. Places like this permeate every region of the country, and weave the entire U.S. story of European migration, 19th century manifest destiny imperialist thought, and the generations and generations of families that have come since.

It is also representative of the borough and the country as a whole. To get here on public transit from other boroughs, it takes quite a commitment, a ferry, a subway ride, and then a bus. Even by car it shows off the end of the world nature of this community in southwestern Staten Island.


So about that authenticity? The "German specialties" portion of the menu is the place to start, but as mentioned, your friends from Munich might never take your advice for dinner plans again. These are the recipes of a few generations down the line, and they will call it "American food." Meanwhile it will make the group of old locals sitting next to you conjure up the stories told to them by their almost-German grandparents back in Wisconsin.

The good news? They are both right. The best bet however is the 3 sausage sampler ($19, above), which does not show up on the lunch menu but is always available. There are four or five choices of sausages here, all of which probably come from Schaller & Weber or something similar, making them good quality. Unfortunately the mustard is just your standard deli variety.


The bed of sauerkraut that the sausages come on and the gravy that covers the pork jΓ€gerschnitzel ($11 at lunch, above) have an interesting, if not offputting, sweetness to them. Again, this is the result of many generations down the line and worthy of study rather than scorn.

And the best way to study these aspects of the United States is to keep ordering, and enjoying the great selection of German beers that Killmeyer's has on offer both on draft and in bottles and cans. The biergarten is simply a secret eden that you have needed for the last six months.

Killmeyer's sauerbraten with red cabbage ($12 at lunch).

Unfortunately the history of the spot is mainly indoors and the beautiful mahogany bar that was built in 1890 cannot be enjoyed at the moment. When you go inside to use the restroom, sneak a peek at it and make plans to return during better days.

The current owners have taken care of the property since 1995, but the story of this little slice of Staten Island goes back at least to 1855 when the first Killmeyer originally purchased it. Some stories push its history back to the late 1700's.


The beef goulash ($10 lunch price, above) has "over egg noodles" next to it on the menu, but somehow it could not have been pictured without spaetzle until it arrived exactly as described. Accompanied also by a small packet of oyster crackers, the generational research still had so much further to dig.

But sitting with a second Krombacher Pils, or maybe in front next to the "world's largest Hummel," enough of it made sense for continued enjoyment of the restaurant and the history. This is not only Staten Island in a nutshell, but also New York City, and the entire country. At least a slice of it anyways.


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22 August 2020

Pho Ketkeo

LAOS πŸ‡±πŸ‡¦

[COVID-19 UPDATE: Pho Ketkeo is allowing limited capacity dine-in seating in accordance with current Connecticut rules. Staff are masked and the dining room is well-spaced. Delivery and takeout are options here as well.]

Admittedly, New Haven is pushing the bounds of what this website defines as its territory. If there was great sushi, or Italian, or even regional Chinese, New Haven would probably be considered too far. For Lao food though, the boundaries are being stretched a bit, because it is a cuisine that flirts with New York City here and there, but always leaves it disappointed for something permanent.

There are trains and buses, and for those privileged enough to own a vehicle, once you pass Co-op City in the northern reaches of the Bronx, New Haven is just a bit more than an hour up I-95 on a good day. This Lao restaurant is worth the trouble no matter how you arrive.


As with most Lao restaurants in the country, the cuisine of Thailand is also offered on the sign outside and throughout the menu. Here they do not separate it into sections and dishes unique to each country intermingle on each page. You probably will not be disappointed by the Thai selections, but this will be about Lao food, somewhat harder to find and what makes Pho Ketkeo a special place.

Nam khao (8.95, above) is a staple dish in the country and should not be missed here at Pho Ketkeo. It could not be better. Sometimes classified as a salad, this is a next-level fried rice dish that includes hunks of fried sticky rice that give each bite a beautiful crunch and spice from curry. This intermingles with the sourness of Lao fermented sausages and plenty of fresh herbs.


Having recently enjoyed a couple bowls of khao poon in soup form, it was with a great eagerness that the thum khao poon ($7.95, above) was ordered. This is served as a salad (thum) rather than in broth, which they have as well. It looks simple but is full of so much flavor that comes at you from all directions.

The soup of this order was all-time favorite kaeg nor mai ($12.95, below right), a bamboo soup originally served to kings and queens. Eating it usually makes you feel like royalty even today, as it is so luxurious and delicious. Along with the bamboo, there are different types of mushrooms, squash and zucchini, lemongrass, and flavored by yanang leaves


Despite its absence in most versions anywhere on the east coast, tripe is an essential part of larb seen ($10.95, below), a beef larb also full of Thai chilies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, onions, mint, cilantro, lemon juice and fish sauce, and the crunchiness of toasted bits of sticky rice.

The larb might be the best example of a dish that proves the kitchen's insistence on bringing the most real foods to New Haven that Lao people miss from back home. They also serve a few types of pho, which are widely consumed for breakfast in Laos, a country full of Vietnamese people as well.


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NEW HAVEN Connecticut
21 Temple Street

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15 August 2020

Kamil's Lebanese Cuisine

LEBANON πŸ‡±πŸ‡§

[COVID-19 UPDATE: Kamil's is open for takeout and delivery. Their large, well-designed back garden is now open for outdoor dining.]

Kamil's, which has always had a great following for indoor and outdoor dining and hookah, has adapted to 2020 fairly well by the look of things. Opening up the front door, you may not believe this, as the interior dining room is now a ghost town. But come in the evening and their large back garden is full of people enjoying their meals outdoors in Clifton.

For those still not comfortable with that, or preferring to eat at home, the takeout operation is going strong and works quite efficiently. Call in your order and it will be ready in 15 to 20 minutes, grabbed at the cashier and getting you on your way.

This was the strategy for a recent takeout order that picked up an array of dishes that made for three or four meals over the course of the next few days.


As seen above, the meal centered around an order of Kamil's mixed grill ($21.95), a platter of grilled lamb chops as well as lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs all served with rice, pickles, and side of toum to slather across everything. The rice is full of more garlic, and a lot of butter, and could not be more decadent. Each piece of meat is marinaded and grilled quite well.

As with any respectable Lebanese meal, there were cold meze for dipping. The sour yogurt lebneh with garlic ($5.95, above, bottom left), sweet roasted Aleppo pepper muhammara ($5.95, above, top center), and chickpea-overload mousabaha ($4.95, above, middle-right) made a formidable combination, covering all the bases.

An order of arayes with sujok & cheese ($6.95, above, bottom right) rounded out the meal and was delicious, although for next time it is recommended to pull this out of the order and eat immediately.

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CLIFTON New Jersey
1489 Main Avenue

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08 August 2020

Royal Garden Tbilisi

GEORGIA πŸ‡¬πŸ‡ͺ

[COVID-19 UPDATE: Besides the couple tables in front, used mostly for coffee and lunch on the weekday of this visit, the restaurant has a covered outdoor space in the garden that can host quite a few people. Customers wishing for ample spacing and appropriate mask usage by staff and other customers might wish to avoid this place.]

On the few occasions that meals were taken at We Are Georgian, the previous tenant at this Kings Highway address, the small bakery and restaurant had always impressed. Last year, well before stay at home orders, a walk in the area had noticed that a new restaurant had unfortunately taken its place, but plans to give it a shot were made.


More than halfway through 2020, with outdoor dining in full bloom throughout the five boroughs, it seemed like the appropriate time to come back. Photos online showed a new backyard with plenty of seats and even a small stage for live music, which was all ready for action for a Friday evening that was fully booked a day in advance. No one was around for lunch though, the perfect time to sample the kitchen on short notice.

Even at lunch, and with a lack of customers, the music will be on in the garden as the soundtrack to everyone getting things set up for the busy night. Grab a table or a lounge-style seat and take a look through the menu. There are no descriptions for eaters less familiar with the names of Georgian foods, so either stick to what you know or start Googling.


One item that needs no introduction and is usually familiar to anyone that has eaten Georgian even just once is their dumpling. The khinkali (above) are listed as $2 per piece, but an order must contain at least six, so any dreams of ordering just one each as to be able to sample more dishes do not come to fruition. Regardless, performing such an abomination might get you thrown out of the place anyways.

Inside the thick wrapper, along with minced meats are just of hint of spiciness and a high level of herbs. It is delicious, although not juicy like most. The proper technique is to grab the thick top where the dough twists together and eat the rest, tossing the doughy stump to the side when finished. In Georgia, these piles of tops are almost like a record, as groups of men stack theirs and compete against each other while downing frosty mugs of beer.


When the khachapuri adjaruli ($14, above and below) arrived at the table, all eyes widened and there may have been just a bit of drool forming. The bread "boat" had puffed up and risen high above its cheesy interior, possibly setting a record in New York City for tallest khachapuri.

Take photos quickly and stir in the butter and egg before the cheese starts cooling. Once you have a good mix, start tearing off chunks of bread and dip them into the center to pull the cheese out. Served on a cutting board not even as long as the khachapuri, there is absolutely no way to keep this from getting messy, but it is worth it hands down.


Not appearing like much when it arrives at the table in a nondescript bowl, the megruli kharcho ($15, below) is actually a great order. Megruli is a descriptor for something from Samegrelo in western Georgia, which reaches both the coast of the Black Sea and up into the Caucasus Mountains. No matter what style of kharcho you are eating, there will be an abundance of walnuts pureed into the soup, and indeed the word "walnuts" is even added to the menu.

The soup is spicier than most things you will order at a Georgian restaurant, with a few flakes of roasted Turkish red pepper floating on the surface. Nuggets of dried beef are found beneath the surface, chewy like jerky and just right to suit the other tastes, which besides the tomato walnut puree include cherry plum paste for tartness, paprika, and fenugreek.


As always in Brooklyn, a 10% service charge will show up on your bill. No matter what the final price of the meal, there are leftovers and good value.

Kings Highway lost one good Georgian restaurant but gained another. Life moves on.

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GRAVESEND Brooklyn
230 Kings Highway

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06 August 2020

Pakiza

PAKISTAN πŸ‡΅πŸ‡°

[COVID-19 UPDATE: The few tables inside have been removed for now, but the steam table operates daily as it always has, and takeout is as fresh as ever.]

For a good chunk of the city's restaurants, the pandemic has hit them with a vigor that appears unlikely to subside anytime soon. Most that want to forge the path forward have adapted as best they can, building outdoor seating areas and more robust delivery systems.

On a recent hot day, kulfi served as immediate relief.

But then there are also certain sectors that seem almost unaffected, besides the annoyances everyone faces to be outside their own home. The steam table joints up and down this section of Coney Island Avenue still have all of their spots full of freshly prepared meals that both the neighborhood and working taxi drivers pop in quickly for throughout the day and night.

If you arrive by car to a place like Lahori Chilli or Pakiza, yellow and green will occupy most spaces out front, and many onto each of the side streets closest. Certainly there are bottom lines that are not seen when something like this is said, but frankly it is a brief glimmer of hope to witness business still going ok for some.


At Pakiza, most of the steam table offerings are available in two sizes, a small for $6 and a large for $12. A recent visit was able to procure large portions of haleem and biriyani and a small lamb curry, annotated in the photo below. Most orders will also throw in a container of lettuce and onions as well as a good portion of raita, a yogurt-based condiment full of cucumber, mint, and coriander.

The lamb curry ($6, small portion) is definitely worthy of a large order, which has already been noted for next time. Grab some naan ($1.50 each) for use with their also excellent haleem ($12, large order), a spicier than usual version of the barley, lentil, and shredded chicken stew. The workaday biriyani ($12, large portion) satisfied just fine, but of the three it could have been the one ordered in a smaller quantity.


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KENSINGTON Brooklyn

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04 August 2020

Cha Cha Cha Cuban CafΓ©

CUBA πŸ‡¨πŸ‡Ί

[COVID-19 UPDATE: As seen in the photo above, there are a few seats in front if you would like to enjoy your food, but Cha Cha Cha is doing primarily pickup and delivery service at the moment.]

Having never been here before restrictions were put into place for dine-in services, the joy and hospitality this room is most certainly full of cannot be independently confirmed. But even in these days opening the door is much more like stepping into the kitchen of a friend rather than a restaurant.

The staff is busy cooking and sorting lunch orders coming in on the phone and various apps, but never stops being friendly and accommodating, even apologizing that the indoor tables are unavailable when a takeout order is ready.

The cute interior can hopefully be enjoyed soon.

When the dining room is back open, it will be with great pleasure that a return visit will need to take place. Besides these good moods, the restaurant is full of cute reminders of Cuba (including bar stools made from real drums), great music, and artwork with scenes of home.

On this particular visit, food was being picked up for a trip down to the beach, but a few appetizers were necessary to take care of growling stomachs. This was a good opportunity to sit at a table in the front.


The plate above includes an empanada de pollo ($2.50, left) and an order of croquetas de hamon ($1.50, right, their spelling), along with two different types of mayo-based dipping sauces. The croquetas are fried to order and tasty, bites are rich with ham and pepper, and maybe a dash of nutmeg?

The empanadas are also fried in their Cuba renditions, but retain their moist meaty filling. You can also select them with picadillo, but this was full of shredded chicken. To be honest, neither of the snacks requires the sauces, each one full of its own spices that outshine the condiments.


After Florida, New Jersey saw the most migration from Cubans over the years and is no stranger to some of the best Cuban food around, including some very impressive cubanos. The cubano ($9.95, above, lunch price) at Cha Cha Cha checks all the right boxes: toasted right with the cheese oozing out, while the savory, sweet, and sourness of the ingredients all play off of each other perfectly.

When the pickle is allowed to dance and showcase itself like it is in this sandwich, happiness is usually quick to follow.


Amongst other dishes that are also available for lunch specials (Monday through Friday, 11:00-14:30) is the lovely ropa vieja ($10.95, above). This shredded and spiced flank steak is cooked in a savory creole sauce and also takes hints of sour from its olives.

For those that are fascinated by Latin American rices and how each country can create its own taste within them, you will not be disappointed by the ample portion here. Scoops of it with the black beans (both come with the ropa vieja) are enough to conjure up memories of sitting down at a restaurant right on the malecΓ³n. For now, the Jersey shore or some proximity to it, will have to suffice.

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KENILWORTH New Jersey
292 South Michigan Avenue

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