Last weekend, I promised my (very) new husband Andras a cozy newlywed weekend with me and our CSA box (translation: simple fall meals and movies). By Saturday afternoon, we’d worked our way through several squash, two bunches of turnips and two double-features and as afternoon slipped into evening, I struggled to make miracles out of what remained in our stash—a humble pile of baby potatoes.
While he ran out to pick up another movie, I put the potatoes in our new favorite copper pot, slipped on his oversized blue Crocs and, hoping desperately no one would see me and mistake my look for an early-Halloween clown attempt, headed out for some fresh air and inspiration.
Just outside our front door, I noticed a tall and thin gent with a low-slung apron and set of broken-in clogs that indicate the kind of restaurant credibility a resume doesn’t quite capture. My deductive reasoning skills told me he was the chef at the soon-to-open ELO restaurant just below our apartment, which had sat empty for the last 6 months. I gave him a quick nod and, hoping my restaurant-impostor clogs would go unnoticed, I dropped a courtesy, “So what’s on the menu?”
So what was on the menu? Click through for more:
The truth is though, it was a little more than courtesy—I was downright curious. Since the line between a New Yorker’s own dining room and the nearest neighborhood restaurant can be quite thin, one tends to become quite invested in not only the restaurant’s menu, but also its clientele, the comings and goings and the success or failure of the joint. Particularly when winter is looming. And under normal circumstances (say, if I were wearing shoes my own size in a somewhat less conspicuous color), I would have popped my head into the kitchen to learn more.
Apparently the chef sensed I was holding back and invited me in. Within minutes I was sitting at a large booth inside, surrounded by a clan of Greek brothers, brothers-of-brothers and brothers-in-laws— feasting on lamb chops with confit garlic, superbly braised octopus with plump capers and olives and risotto with meaty shrimp. I felt as if I’d stepped onto a scene from Big Night, only it was if I had been there all along. Before I could set down my fork, out came an intensely satisfying walnut cake with mascarpone cream and raspberries in a subtle honey syrup.
I finished my last bite of cake, and nodded in congratulations to my new brothers –Charlie, Sam, Tony, Mike, Dennis, John, and Nick. All seemed well with the world, and I felt a collective sigh as we dropped our forks in unison, at rest in the joy and accomplishment of a menu so well-planned, in ingredients thoughtfully procured and time-honored traditions of a culture or a family that I was suddenly, serendipitously, a part of.
Suddenly, I remembered my pot of potatoes bubbling away on the stovetop, and my husband, who was bound to be home by now. I dashed for home to greet them both, thanking the Greeks profusely and promising to return on opening night. On my way out the door, the chef slipped me a to-go box with another carefully layered oversized cut of walnut cake, “for him” (the husband).
Back upstairs I found myself in an empty house with a pot of overcooked potatoes and a moral dilemma. Should I destroy the evidence (that is, eat the cake), mash the potatoes and blame a tummy-ache for the lack of more inspired options; or confess every delicious detail and offer him the cake as consolation?
As tempting as the former was, I love my husband more than cake. And I’m pretty sure cake-hoarding and “love, honor and cherish” are mutually exclusive. So, he got his cake, I got my story and we both got a fab new neighborhood haunt to keep us well-fed all winter long.
ELO opens tonight! No website yet, but they’re at 12-14 31st avenue, Long Island City, NY 11106 — or 718-726-4400. See you there!
Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer