By Peter Sloggatt
After five years on Huntington’s Main Street, Neraki owner Alex Moschos can safely say he’s here to stay. Despite a vibrant restaurant scene, Huntington can be a tough market and eateries can come and go. The village’s home to authentic Greek cooking, Neraki has proved to be a keeper.
The name Neraki references water in Greek, which is reflected in the décor. Walls painted a deep sea blue and the hand-painted sky mural on the ceiling give a flavor of Greek islands. Traditional Greek music in the background adds to the flavor. But the most authentic notes come not from the music, but from the food.
Moschos and his wife Olga opened Neraki – their first venture in the restaurant business – five years ago with a dream to share their love of Greek cooking. They chose Huntington, Moschos said, “because it’s the dining capital of Long island, and Huntington needed a good seafood restaurant.”
Indeed, seafood is king at Neraki, and the emphasis is always on freshness and simplicity. A glass case at the back of the restaurant displays the fruits of Moschos’ frequent trips to Hunts Point fish market where he walks to aisles, poking and prodding, and quite literally looking into the eyes of the day’s catch to select only the best.
Like in the Greek islands, the daily catch is simply prepared: grilled whole, with olive oil and lemon. Servers are skilled at filleting the fish, and will do so tableside. The menu regularly features Red Snapper ($34), with a lean and moist meat; Branzino ($35), and Black Sea Bass ($30), a mild-flavored flaky white meat fish. But menu offerings vary depending on what’s best at the market.
“It’s all about the quality and freshness. If something on my menu is not up to par, I won’t buy it,” Moschos said.
The menu itself is a lesson in Greek in terms of both language and cooking, and Neraki’s menu is like travelling to the Aegean. Moschos puts his tough on many traditional Greek dishes, giving them a Neraki twist.
Some favorites include the Stuffed Calamari appetizer ($19), a quartet of calamari stuffed with minced vegetables, shrimp and octopus, marinated and lightly sautéed to bring out the sweetness.
Shrimp Saganaki ($23), another traditional dish, brings together fresh shrimp, briny feta cheese, sweet marinated red peppers and caramelized onion under a blanket of graviera cheese, and served piping hot in a cast iron skillet. Like most of the appetizers, it will serve two to four easily.
Moschos puts his twist on some Greek peasant dishes with outstanding results.
Pastitsio, a baked lasagna-like dish features layered noodles and chopped meat in a béchamel sauce for a hearty portion of Greek goodness. The Moussaka is prepared with a nod to vegetarians (Huntington has a lot of vegetarians, according to Moschos) with eggplant and zucchini over layers of potatoes. Both are a hearty lesson in Greek family fare.
Meat lovers also have a place at Neraki’s table. Grilled Steak ($26) is a simple meat and potatoes combo, simply prepared and served. Baby Lamb Chops ($30) are likewise simply grilled – and mouthwatering.
A classic Greek salad ($9 medium, $13 large) should accompany everything as far as I’m concerned. It’s topped with a tangy housemade dressing that will have you asking why they don’t sell it by the bottle.
And, of course, there’s dessert. Greek sweets include a mouthwatering traditional Baklava with honey and nuts in phyllo dough, from Olga’s family recipe, and Galaktoboureko, a vanilla infused custard in phyllo. A sweet way to end your trip into authentic Greek eating.
Greek Mediterranean Grill
273 Main St., Huntington
Cuisine: authentic Greek, simply prepared.
Atmosphere: casual, friendly
Price range: Moderate
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.-9 p.m.