When we think of Mediterranean cuisine, we think of Spanish, French, Italian, Greek but not the Balkans or the Druze culture. Last month, I visited two restaurants off the beaten Mediterranean path.
A taste of the Balkans in Hell’s Kitchen, Balkanika is a delightful restaurant. It has a warm, cozy atmosphere with friendly, helpful staff. We weren’t sure what to order. We knew we’d start with dips, but they all sounded so good, so we got the plate of all 16. Boy, were we glad we did, as we had a blast scooping our way through them with the accompanying fresh bread (of which there was plenty).
We also ordered the mesana skara, a meat platter for two. This consisted of ground lamb and turkey patties, sausages and chicken rolled in cheese and bacon. We scarfed the dips down with a bottle of Croatian wine, with barely enough room for the meat. It made a good next day lunch.
Gazala’s Place in Hell’s Kitchen specializes in Druze cuisine. Druze are a religious community in the Middle East, and the chef and owner is from a Druze village in Israel. Their food is similar to Lebanese.
We went here for lunch, and it wasn’t crowded. We were seated at a comfy table. I love labneh, so I got the lebanee, or handmade goat cheese. The lebanee here had more of a cream cheese consistency than a sour cream consistency. I’ve had both types and both are very good. This was delicious with olive oil and fresh bread–thin, large sheets of pita.
I also got the fattoush salad, one of my favorites. It was very good and filling.
My friend got the hummus plate with hummus, babaganoush, a very tasty cabbage and corn salad, falafel, lebanee and pita.