Embrace Maria’s Greek Delights
38-11 Bell Blvd., Bayside
Hours: 11 am -11 pm Mon-Sat; noon to 11 pm Sun
Delivery: No (takeout)
Credit Cards: All Major
Sometimes, not knowing the language is a disadvantage. You walk into a restaurant and the names of the dishes sound scary. I know that for many of us, our experience with Greek food ends at Souvlaki and maybe spanikopita (better known as spinach pie).
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
But there’s an answer to that fear and a way of handling it – go to a great restaurant, and put your meal in their hands – which is exactly what my guest and I did Tuesday night at Maria’s Restaurant in Bayside.
To begin, the place is huge; compared to some of its Bell Boulevard neighbors, it’s easily double the size. Tasteful decorations in a deep burgundy accent eggshell walls to give the place a clean and fresh feel.
We met Tommy, whose mother Maria was busy in the back cooking up for a sizeable dinner party, and told him to bring us what he wanted (keeping in mind that my guest is allergic to shellfish). He agreed to provide the appetizers and we would pick the main dishes.
And so it began.
We started with the Antipasto Platter of Tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), Melitzanosalata (grilled eggplant, onions and red peppers mashed into a chunky spread), Skordalia (mashed potatoes, garlic and olive oil blended) and Taramas (caviar and whipped olive oil). It came with plentiful fresh-grilled pita, slices of tomato and enough aroma floating off the top of the platter to drive us crazy. As we noshed, one of the servers walked over and suggested we try some of the melitzanosalata together with the tzatziki. Yes, please. Each combination provided a different texture and flavor from the next.
But we could not dwell on our dips too long, because the next one had already arrived. This was the Tirokafteri, spicy peppers cooked on charcoal and hand beaten into feta cheese. The mixture is then used to fill red peppers that are split lengthwise and put under a broiler do create a bubbling mixture with a crisp and chewy feta crust. Served with more pita, it certainly added fire to the cool of the other dips.
In her deadpan delivery, our server insisted that there was no spice in the dish, just food. “There’s nothing added,” she joked.
Next up was the Ostras de Maria (Maria’s Oysters), similar in concept to Oysters Rockefeller, but with less of a steakhouse vibe. Yes, there’s sautéed spinach and cheese, but it’s parmesan, and served with this fantastic sauce of butter, cream and white wine that will turn even the most wimpy “I can’t eat that if it’s on a shell” person into a true mollusk lover.
Of similar concept, but from a whole different place comes the Gemista Manitaria, a grilled Portobello mushroom stuffed with spinach and feta, popped under the broiler and coming out tasting like a perfectly cooked steak with a side of creamed spinach.
Exhausted, but determined to make it through the meal, we moved on to our main dishes of Kontosouvli, a spit-cooked marinated pork shoulder, and a similar lamb dish that wasn’t on the menu, but ready to be served. (At this point I should point out that the menu says, “Ask your server what Maria cooked this morning.” It’s a good idea – there’s always something special going on).
Back to the meat – the pork shoulder was tender and that great balance of lean and fat that makes it the perfect cut for barbecue and stews. The lamb was from the rib and side, so think of the tenderness of short ribs and skirt steak, and you’ve got the concept – except with the kind of crust that only rotisserie can bring. Both come with fresh sliced red onion, and if you’re a condiment guy (or gal), they probably are fantastic with a slight dollop of the tzatziki.
We didn’t have any of the whole fish, but judging from some of our dining neighbors, that’s going have to be at the top of our list when we go back.
We finished our meal with a trip of desserts – and you won’t find a menu with them listed; it’s all about what is fresh for the day. We sampled a honey cake that just oozed happiness on every bite; a lemon tart that was somewhere between a cheesecake, a meringue pie and heaven; and a honey custard pie with a phyllo topping.
I couldn’t pronounce the names – I’m having trouble right now spelling them – but everything was delicious. Just head over to Maria’s and put your meal in their hands. They know what they’re doing.
- Brian M. Rafferty