Familiarity feels like home at Cosmos Greek Kitchen
The 124 Street location of Cosmos Greek Kitchen has been in place for nearly 20 years. The original restaurant, though, was located on 111 Street and 103 Avenue. That is the Cosmos I knew: where plates were smashed, tables were danced upon, and where ouzo flowed like water from a goddess’ urn.
When I tell Costa Panousis, the owner, of the night I lost a shoe at that location, he laughs. It was the 80s, I say, and we both shrug. Costa was a server during those years and has stories of his own, many of which revolve around NHL players, including The Great One himself, and a parade of celebrities who frequented the restaurant and partied long into the night.
“Times have changed,” he says, which is an understatement considering what has transpired the past two years, never mind four decades of being in this industry.
What hasn’t changed is the food, in fact, it’s gotten better. The lemony potatoes are perfectly cooked; the moussaka has the right amount of cinnamon, and the calamari, which took the city by storm when it first appeared in the early 80s, is still the best in town. And while I was surprised to see Retsina on the menu, I was heartened that it had kept its place in the inventory. This wine, first made 2,000 years ago, has distinct notes of pine resin, and while I wouldn’t consider it a wine to order again and again, everybody needs a Retsina encounter at least once, to get the full Hellenic experience.
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As active proprietor and host, Costa is the face of the restaurant, but he has a solid team working alongside him, including a very capable cook named Athena.
“If I go in there and she doesn’t like what I say, she tells me to…” His words drop off, but I get the drift, and I feel much respect for this woman who, in her seventies now, has been cooking home-style Greek food at Cosmos for 22 years.
“Athena is the name of the Goddess of War, is it not?” I ask.
He tells me he’s not so good with mythology, but I see the twinkle in his eye. If he’s learned anything after this many years in business, it’s that diplomacy is a priceless trait.
According to Costa, the most important part of his job is to keep people happy; something that requires patience, discipline, and compassion. It’s been working for him. Cosmos Greek Kitchen has a longstanding and very devoted customer base.
When he offered a 20% discount for people to pick up their orders at the start of the pandemic, instead of having them delivered, many customers just added the 20% back—on top of the tip. That’s what you get for being a good host all these years.
The Passport Lounge that takes up space next to the restaurant is also owned by Costa. A door connects the two, but each has their own kitchen. The lounge is home to live bands as well as a Thursday piano bar and if the situation presents itself for a customer to get on a table and dance, you just might see Costa lending a hand up.
Things may have changed, yes, but there’s still a little bit of the 1980s in Costantinos Panousis, and I for one, am all for it.
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