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Amazin' Meze

It's Dippity-Doo-Dah at Dyker Heights Greek Cypriot restaurant

Among the hulking warehouses and sunken railroad tracks of northern Dyker Heights, near a mental health facility emblazoned "Serenity Psychotherapy," Meze occupies a bleak corner in what is probably the last place you'd look for a Greek restaurant. Maybe it ambled east from Bay Ridge, where there has been a substantial Hellenic presence for 30 years. But the Greek diners and carryouts of Third Avenue won't prepare you for the splendor of Meze. Named after the appetizing dishes that were the legacy of the Ottoman empire's domination of Greece, the restaurant sports a cheery blue awning, inviting you into its austere interior, where a wall of unvarnished brick is hung with stringed instruments. A panoramic flat-screen monitor over the door offers a steady diet of Greek islands seen in swooping helicopter shots, with eye-searing white cottages pressed against rocky mountainsides, and a sea so blue it seems color enhanced.

Reflecting the partition of Cyprus in 1974 and the subsequent migration of Greek islanders to New York, Meze is a Cypriot spot, and there's no better place in town to enjoy the unique dishes of the shoe-shaped island. Sheftalies ($8.95) is an ensemble of three stout skinless sausages that emerge smoking from the grill. Bedded on chopped onions, the texture of these pork sausages is marvelously coarse and chewy. Haloumi ($7.95)—a semi-firm sheep's-milk cheese that, if you put your nose to it, delivers a faint whiff of mint—is cut into squares, deposited in a cast-iron skillet, and browned under the broiler. The cheese develops a buttery flavor as it browns, and the flavor is enhanced when scooped with the above-average pitas provided.

The menu covers much the same culinary territory as its Astorian Cypriot counterparts like Aliada, emphasizing meat over fish. Nevertheless, counting regular menu items and specials, there is still a good number of seagoing choices. The best deal is tsipoura ($17.95), a Mediterranean royal dorado of about a pound and a half that arrives blackened head-to-tail, accompanied by a silver gravy boat mixing butter and olive oil. Twice the grease is twice the fun. Like the Umbrians of central Italy, the Cypriots are not afraid of mixing the two fats, often with spectacular results. But the tsipoura needs plenty of salt. As at other Greek spots, a compulsory item in your dinner plan should be ohtapodi, a pair of ropy octopus tentacles sprinkled with red-wine vinegar. The dapper waiter will offer to snip them into smaller pieces with kitchen shears, and you should take him up on his offer.

Come on in: Greek fare awaits.
photo: Willie Davis
Come on in: Greek fare awaits.

As you might expect, given the name, Meze's meze are amazing, especially the familiar bread dips, which are a central feature of the menu. Cypriots never hesitate to make an entire meal of them. There's a pick-three selection ($10.95), in which the dips appear in rather unsatisfying small cups. But if you order the dips individually ($6.95 each), the portions are as hulking as the surrounding warehouses, abundant enough to share among four or five diners. The best two are scordalia, made of mashed potatoes unmellowed with raw garlic, lemon, and salt (the menu warns: "for garlic lovers"), and melitzanosalata, an eggplant concoction that hasn't been pureed to death, remaining pleasantly chunky. Flavored with feta and parsley, the dip deserves the best recommendation I can give it: Melitzanosalata owes nothing to baba ghanoush.

 
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