By Tom Momberg
When Aris Konstantinidis emigrated from Greece in 1984, he was astonished at the variety of international cuisine available in the city, but believed the Americanized versions paled in comparisons to the originals.
“This has been in my head for a long time,” Konstantinidis said. “I’ve traveled, and I have opened restaurants in New York and in California — and everywhere I went, I could not find decent Greek food.”
After flourishing for some time in the food industry working for others as a chef and restaurant executive, Konstantinidis went into business for himself, hoping to introduce strong flavor and conventional Greek ingredients to Americans’ palette.
In the summer of 2014, Konstantinidis bought a small diner in Manhattan and another building on the border of Flushing and Bayside, which he named Kalamaki NYC, 29-06 172nd St., after the Greek word meaning “on a stick.”
Brothers Nico and Jimmy Syros came to the city from their hometown of Arahova, Greece to help Konstantinidis run the kitchen. Together, the trio and their staff serve authentic, fresh, never frozen Greek dishes they know best resemble home.
“I always believe in the beauty of the simplicity of things, so we do things very simply here, with a lot of love and amazing ingredients,” Konstantinidis said. “That’s where our success lies, is and will be.”
All the meat they serve is prepared and cooked in house. Dishes are prepared the day they are served, not the day before. And Kalamaki buys its feta cheese, first-cold-press olive oil and oregano as Greek imports.
The traditional Greek souvlaki and gyros prepared at the restaurant are made from lamb or pork belly, which are flavored by the animals’ fat and traditional Greek spices. They are served in small pita sandwiches with onion, yogurt and tomato — which Konstantinidis said is the way it is meant to be — so all the flavors can be enjoyed simultaneously.
Kalamaki’s menu is not huge, like they are at many Greek restaurants. Nico Syros and Konstantinidis said the things they have on their menu they do well, and did not want to bog down quality by offering too much.
Konstantinidis said he is unveiling a new Mediterranean diet and seafood menu in the next week, as well — sticking with fresh and simple ingredients.
For dessert, Kalamaki offers nine artisanal varieties of its fresh imported Greek-style yogurt.
Call Kalamaki at 718-939-1616, or visit online at www.kalam
Kalamaki is open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb