Inspired by annual family visits to the Mediterranean country, three restaurateurs are bringing a taste of Greece to Long Island. Ara Greek Kitchen & Bar opened in Commack in November with a mix of authentic dishes as well as modern takes on traditional Greek food.
“We felt that beyond the neighborhood gyro and souvlaki joints, Greek food still isn’t represented as well as it should be. We wanted to do our part in sharing the cuisine we grew up with,” said Steve Menexas, who owns the restaurant with his brother George Menexas, and Tony Dagounakis, a longtime family friend. The three also own two Queens restaurants, Allora Italian Kitchen & Bar and Mamma Luciana’s Pizzeria, Brooklyn’s Atlantic Social and a few Jamba Juice franchises.
The Menexas brothers, whose father immigrated to the United States in 1971, grew up in the restaurant business. “Our father came here with nothing and worked at a restaurant, saving every penny,” George said. “When the owner was retiring, he bought it from him.” Their father owns Gyro King in the Bronx and stills work there every day.
Christos Bisiotis, Ara’s executive chef, designed the menu using inspiration from his childhood. “I wanted to stay true to my upbringing and the traditional cooking from my grandmother, but with an interesting twist to make it exciting for guests,” he said.
The menu features mezze, salads, entrees and pizzas (prepared the way one would find in the popular Greek island Mykonos). Some of the bestsellers already include the “perfectly prepared octopus,” said Bisiotis, who works closely with chef de cuisine Peter Kontomanolis. There’s also the horiatiki, a salad which the chef described as “very rustic but with a lot of different textures.” Another highlight is the yiouvetsi, which is orzo served with “beautifully braised lamb shank that melts off the bone like butter.”
Diners can pair plates with any of the creative cocktails. There’s a Santorini Spritz made with Aperol, Prosecco and golden raisin or the Kaftero (means spicy in Greek) made with tequila, Campari, jalapeño, lime and ancho sugar. Wine, liquor and beer items are also available to customers.
And there are more exciting things in store for 2018, including a tasting menu developed by Bisiotis and Kontomanolis. “We want the menu to combine a creative, craziness and love—it will be a complete expression of our history,” Bisiotis said.