Greetings from the East Coast. Sunday I embarked on my bi-annual visit to my sister in New Jersey. Our get together ritual includes a week long shopping, eating, and seeking out unique food emporiums, adventure.
Queens was our destination today, since we would pass it on the Van Wyck expressway from JFK to Long Branch, New Jersey. We exited the expressway to check out the 5 towns, including Lawrence, Woodmere, and Cedarhurst. To my delight, several eateries on the main drag were advertising Borekas on their billboards. The heat of the day was becoming oppressive with the high humidity making the air heavy and we returned to the car after trying to buy an unsweetened iced green tea. I guess they don’t drink that here. It was time to head to our real destination, Piyaz, a Turkish restaurant.
Piyaz is the only kosher, authentic Turkish restaurant in the United States. Piyaz has been open less than a year. It’s bright and cheerful ambiance and spotless appearance made me hopeful that the food would be tasty. The name Piyaz comes from a Turkish salad with white beans, lettuce, parsley, onions, and green peppers. Although the two of us ordered enough food for 4 to 5 people we didn’t order the Piyaz.
Our waiter, a handsome, fresh faced, young man from Odessa, was eager to please. We ordered a combination plate of cold appetizers including, tabouli, roasted eggplant, eggplant with tomatoes, spiced minced eggplant with red chilies, and lemony stuffed grape leaves. The eggplants were all very different, but the smokiness and fruity olive oil was evident. I enjoyed the fresh green parsley taste of the tabouli. The almost creamy rice stuffing of the grape leaves was delightful.
Next came the lentil soup, just like my mom’s, thick and creamy with just the right amount of seasoning. The hot appetizers on the menu all sounded so tempting, we finally settled on the Kuba, lamb stuffed bulgur wheat dumplings fried crispy and a spinach stuffed, 10 inch long boreka of homemade filo dough baked to a golden brown. A platter of Lahmagun, thinly layered, puffy, baked dough topped with spiced ground lamb and tomatoes was well flavored but not overlly piquant.
We were starting to feel a little full, so we sent the unfinished platters back to the kitchen to be packed up in doggie boxes. Just then, the waiter appeared with a huge mixed grill platter on a bed of rice pilaf. The mixed grill included, Shawarma, Chicken Shish Kebab, Chicken Adana, Beef Shish Kebab, lamb chops, and chicken chops garnished with grilled peppers, tomatoes, grilled onions, and lemon slices. Each meat had a slightly different spice and seasoning. The phrase ‘bet you can’t eat just one’ comes to mind.
Since everything was so flavorful and reminisent of my families cuisine we ate until the bursting point. Piyaz is unique in its menu choices, and if you are on the East Coast, or fly into JFK take the time to detour down the road less traveled so to speak and experience an authentic taste of Turkey.
Freya Muhlstein says
You are truly a gifted writer, It’s a joy to read about your travels and food exploits!
greek girl from queens says
Oh…my…stars! I just clicked on this just now, and my eyes caught sight of the names Woodmere, Lawrence, Cedarhurst and, of all things, the Van Wyck Expressway…
Small world…very small world, in fact, as I used to live in Rosedale (born in Astoria, then moved to Flushing, then to Rosedale for pretty much most of my early childhood and teens and very early twenties), before I moved out on my own and onto the more urban / less suburban parts of Queens (Woodside and Sunnyside).
My beloved father opened a kosher pizzeria in Cedarhurst…many, many years ago. It didn’t do well, unfortunately, and so he sold up and opened up a coffee shop in Rockaway Park, where he did a lot better for a good couple of years.
It truly is a small, small world. I remember Cedarhurst and Woodmere, and even Hewlett so, so well….just a stone’s throw from Rosedale, really. I remember the lovely temple there…was it Temple Hillel, I think? Right on the border of Rosedale, where it soon turns into either Valley Stream or Woodmere, depending on which direction you went from Rosedale onwards? I remember Green Acres shopping mall, too.
Thanks, once again, for bringing back to life so many lovely childhood and early teenage memories for me.
Hi greek girl, if you have a chance make a reservation and go eat at Piyaz. The food was really incredible. I am not an East Coast native, but thanks to my sister who lives at the Jersey Shore, we always go exploring when I visit. We gew up in Seattle, where there is a very large Sephardic community. Take this link to the synagogue sites in Seattle and you will be suprised. http://www.sbhseattle.org http://www.ezrabessaroth.net
greekgirl from queens says
If I ever get back to New York…come to that, if I ever get back to the US (I live in Ireland now) I’ll definitely check out Piyaz. From your description and the photos, it sounds like foodie-heaven.
My uncle(the mystery dessert junkie) lived in Newark…Irvington, if memory serves. Again, I’ve not been back to the States for a good 11 years now, but one day, I do hope to return for a visit (and a food tour of all the places I remember frequenting, once upon a time on the East Coast).
Did you ever ask your mom about the mystery sweet we (you, me and Marilyn) were trying to remember? I’ve also just subscribed to Janet’s wonderful Sephardic Foods blog, and I can now tell you and Marilyn that it was kolva, after all. Marilyn, if you go to Janet’s blog, you’ll see the recipe for it there. What did your mom say, if you asked her about it? Did she remember what it was called, and if she did, what was her name for it? Have you ever tasted this dessert (which I’ve learned is sometimes referred to as a porridge, but also a spoon sweet), and if you did, what did you think of it, and what are your memories of it?
Hi Greek girl, I forgot you live in Ireland. I have been asking some other family besides my mother. My mother remembers eating something called Shuroup de Passas on Fridays. Shuroup de Passas was a boiled raisin syrup served as a thick drink in a glass. My cousin Louise suggested that perhaps your Grandma, Nona was creative with the leftover syrup and nuts from making baklava. I will keep asking for you. Linda
greekgirl from queens says
Hi Linda – Shuroup de Passas sounds pretty close, at least from your mom’s description (bless her for remembering and sharing that), but the name itself doesn’t ring a bell. I think Janet hit the nail on the head when she came up with ‘kolva.’ That immediately resonated with me. I knew that it sounded similar to either halvah or baklava (the ‘k’ sound and the ‘vah’ suffix, but just couldn’t put the two together…until ‘kolva’ stepped onto the scene.
My nunna did make baklava, but not very otten, so I don’t have strong memories of it or how it tasted. I think I’d like to try my hand at making that, as well. I’ll say it again – your blog and now Janet’s blog have both definitely inspired and motivated me to reconnect with my heritage, on many levels, and I thank you so much for this.
When I was a kid, I remember wanting to learn how to speak Russian (my dad’s side of the family – from outside of Kiev) and Greek. I remember taking those big Berlitz language books out of our local library and pouring over them for hours, trying to impress both my grandmothers. They did teach me a few words, a few phrases, but sadly and much to my regret, I didn’t keep up with it, and, as kids often do, I just went on to other things that interested me.
What I’d really like to do now is teach myself Greek again, and then one day visit Iannina.