Star-crossed food lovers do not need a special occasion such as Valentine's Day in order to celebrate and enjoy great meals. Family run It's Greek To Me in Syosset, for example, serves absolutely mouth-watering, high-quality Greek cuisine (along with these scrumptious heart-shaped cookies) throughout the year. Trust Cooke, it's worth stopping in. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
Star-crossed food lovers do not need a special occasion such as Valentine’s Day in order to celebrate and enjoy great meals. Family run restaurant It’s Greek To Me in Syosset, for example, serves absolutely mouth-watering, high-quality Greek cuisine (along with these scrumptious heart-shaped cookies) throughout the year. Trust Cooke, it’s worth stopping in. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

Oh, Valentine’s Day, that oh-so special day of the year where corporate America convinces couples to shell out exorbitant sums of money in order to prove their feelings to one another with the threat that if they do not it means they do not care for each other, thus literally turning a profit by transforming genuine feelings of love and affection into cold-hard cash.

Oh, Valentine’s Day, that miserable 24 hours each February that never fails to stamp out any sliver of self-confidence still writhing on life-support in the polar vortex of your heart and replace it with the pounding, resounding crucifixion of loneliness, anguish, frustration and pain that swells like the ocean in never-ending torture yet somehow instantaneously disappears with the healing aroma of a hot plate of food, a mouthful of chocolate, or the all-encompassing salvation derived from a welcoming heap of lemon-drenched grape leaves, accompanying cup of Tzatziki sauce and several piping blankets of freshly baked pita.

A good grape leaf can go a long way in illuminating happiness, dear Feta freaks. These beauties can be found at It's Greek To Me in Syosset. Eat one and celebrate life. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
A good grape leaf can go a long way toward illuminating happiness, dear Feta freaks. These beauties can be found at It’s Greek To Me in Syosset. Eat one and celebrate life. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

Yes, dear food romantics, Friday was Valentine’s Day, and thus, today it is time for the first annual Cooke Post-Valentine’s Day Food-Bliss Roundup, partially named that at an editor’s insistence since responsible boyfriends, girlfriends and the betrothed had long already enjoyed their reservations—made far in advance, no doubt, at their favorite romantic eateries—yet are, perhaps, still thinking, still dreaming, still living those special V-Day meals even as you devour these very words right now. This semi-nonsensical rant-musing, which teeters between uber-delicious take-out lunch specials, platters, and sit-down dinners at some of my favorite restaurants, offers all the Lonely Hearts Club Band members out there the chance to experience some of the very best of those takedowns vicariously, right here, through this blog post. And perhaps this quick list will forever alter sweethearts’ future Valentine’s Days by opening their minds and souls (and stomachs) to these precious gifts to food criticism-romanticism. For there have been many, many—countless, I dare declare—crushes and breakups, flings and lifelong bonds forged during the mastication of millennia foodstuffs. And today, dear chocolate and flower hounds, is no exception.

For true love does not exist between the hours of a singular calendar date, food friends. True love—and the embodiment of those affections, those desires—are all around, every second of every minute of every hour of every single day. Right now; this instant in existence. So, consider this a post-V-Day love poem—to food.

Consuming food is a natural instinct, dear Tzatziki hounds, an eternal need. It is an intimate experience, one that both takes, transforms and grants life. It is necessary, yet it is the epitome of romantic wanderlust—forever in search of that perfect dish, that once-in-a-lifetime feast, that irreplaceable, spiritual, and potentially borderline religious experience. You, the eater, are absorbing another entity into your being, your essence, with such sacrifice metamorphasizing to fuel your body’s cells, become a part of you, give you life.

No one knows you more intimately than food. No one understands your body more than—oh-so-divine food. No one is more supportive or loving or forgiving as—you guessed it—food. Its very existence is sustenance, nourishment, growth. It is a timeless union, you and the good stuff, and one that must be acknowledged and respected. For food is symbiotic. Disappearing food is an oh-so precious gift and must be chosen wisely, dear souvlaki superstars. It is a primordial, communal offering. And the best meals are shared. (That is why it is such a travesty that there are no Ethiopian restaurants on Long Island. Those of you who have partaken in such a shared celebration undoubtedly agree.) All-knowing, omni—enough with my food adoration, dear smorgasbord hunters, and on with the ’Box, as we used to say. On with the ’Box.

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We begin this special feast with that most ancient of all cuisines, dear melted chocolate strawberries (oops, I guess I have a bit of cacao on the brain again lol). Valentine’s Day fun fact: All valentines love gold and diamonds and chocolate and flowers. These are indisputable time-tested, proven facts. A special few, however, react with equal intoxication to Greek food.

“There’s something very special about a grape leaf,” she says, smiling. “This is the best Valentine’s Day present I’ve gotten the whole day.”

It is true. Luckily for you, then, dear culinary Cupids who have been struck by an arrow made of pure Feta, that one of the best Greek restaurants this side of Thessaloniki resides right here along the North Shore of Long Island.

Yes, so we will begin our timeless tale of gastrointestinal romance upon these gorgeous shores of Grecian delight, of Psyche and Cupid, of platter upon platter upon smoldering, radiating platter of fresh, simply heartbreakingly delicious, soul-euphoric meals. (If you deem this blog post to be overly emotional and gushy it may because speaking of such beauties is an emotional and gushy, and quite frankly, viscerally raw experience that touches deep, deep down into the bottomless chasm that is my loving and oft-times emotionally gushy gut, or G-squared, as they say. G-squared, indeed. This, as a reminder, is also a blog, which unlike the published periodical, does not require a word count, and thus, the blogger is free to extoll ad nauseam, if he or she so chooses, on the virtues of a ham sandwich, for example, if so inspired—and as a side note, I have happened upon some pretty inspirational ham sandwiches, I might add. Perhaps a future blog post. Ahem.)

Thick, juicy chunks of chicken souvlaki atop heaping mounds of fresh onions, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice is what you'll find at It's Greek To Me restaurant in Syosset. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
Thick, juicy chunks of chicken souvlaki atop heaping mounds of fresh onions, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice is what you’ll find at It’s Greek To Me restaurant in Syosset, among many other irresistible Mediterranean delights. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

IT’S GREEK TO ME
127 Jackson Avenue, Syosset
516-496-0771

I have shared my love of this family run Thermopylae of truly high-quality Mediterranean delights in Syosset several times before, dear reader-eaters. Besides being a primo spot for lunch and dinner throughout the year—offering a wide variety of daily specials, generous portions and equally appealing prices—the place is also a popular Valentine’s Day destination and remains at the top of this brief, yet informative (and most entertaining, if I do say so myself!) list.

Surround yourself in souvlaki. Enjoy the most delicious lamb, gnawed from a hefty shank, sliced, or as weighty super-chunk kabobs; for lamb is one of their specialties. At It’s Greek To Me, all your wildest Grecian cuisine fantasies are possible and every dish is one for the books. This is top-quality Greek at its finest. Enjoy the fresh vegetables, the gyros, the cheeses. Swoon over a plate of some fresh fish, a Falafel or three, and olives. Do not forget about the Grape Leaves, dear Feta freaks. And never forget dessert. Love-struck patrons sure have their pick here—from honey-dripped Baklava and to-die-for Rice Puddin’ to heart-shaped Grecian cookies and Turkish coffee, among so many other treats.

Bright red paper hearts dangle from the ceiling of the intimate-yet-casual candlelit main dining room on Valentine’s Day, twirling in perfect rotation amid the glowing couples as the planets dance around the sun. Bottle after bottle of Retsina Wine Malamatina transport guests to some far-off paradise while bouzoukis and singers serenade this romantic feast through the speakers of the restaurant’s sound system.

Alas, always remember, dear friends, that this unforgettable experience is recreated here, constantly. Their dining room is an everyday oasis. For It’s Greek To Me offers a warm, inviting atmosphere, oh-so friendly staff and absolutely magnificent Greek food, daily.

Yes, every day is Valentine’s Day here. Welcome home. Welcome home.

The creamy pink goodness of the Penne a la Vodka at the Post Office Cafe in Babylon, one of its "Main Street Specialties," will warm the heart of any hungry high-quality food seeker. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
The creamy pink goodness of the Penne a la Vodka at the Post Office Cafe in Babylon, one of its “Main Street Specialties,” will satisfy the appetite of any hungry food-adventure seeker. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

POST OFFICE CAFE
130 West Main Street, Babylon
631-669-9224

Besides the food and wide selection of beers, including microbrewery selections, Babylon's Post Office Cafe is known for their martinis. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
Besides the food, Babylon’s Post Office Cafe is also known for its martinis. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

Pretty much an institution around this hopping bar town (among several others), the Post Office Café offers a variety of dishes that would make any Valentine’s Day that much more memorable, be it their local brews, impressive lineup of appetizers or scrumptiously addictive arsenal of “Main Street Specialties.”

Bask in the creamy goodness of its Killer Mac & Cheese—corkscrew pasta immersed amid a thick, flavorful moat of gooey four-cheese sauce, butter and breadcrumb crust. Dunk a few of the place’s Mini Reubens—stuffed with fresh juicy corn beef slivers, melted Swiss cheese, bundles of sauerkraut and slathered in Russian dressing—for a delectably joyous kiss!

A simple warning regarding the Post Office Café’s Chicken Bruschetta, however. The monstrous helping of grilled cutlets, Asiago cheese, tomato-basil-Kalamata olive bruschetta, mixed with rocket arugula salad and splashed with aged balsamic has the supernatural ability of making you fall in love at first chomp; a kiss you won’t soon forget.

Another giftt for your beau is the Penne a la Vodka—an addictive, filling melting pot of creamy pink sauce, fresh basil, garlic, artichoke hearts and prosciutto. Fork or spoon—this is a glorious treat, indeed. ‘Twas a Valentine’s Day mastication-massacre, dear brokenhearted grape leaf warriors. ‘Twas a Valentine’s Day mastication-massacre.

Wash the feast down with a sampling of Post Office Café’s many delicious martinis. Try a pink one. You’re welcome.

AZERBAIJAN GRILL
1610 Old Country Road, Westbury
516-228-0001

Westbury's Azerbaijan Grill serves generous portions of fresh, juicy lamb, chicken and salmon, among many other fantastic and reasonably prices delights. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)
Westbury’s Azerbaijan Grill serves generous portions of fresh, juicy lamb, chicken and salmon, among many other fantastic and reasonably prices delights. (Chris Cooke/Long Island Press)

Another newspaper must be secretly recording my feedings, dear green-garlic sauce fiends, for a recent piece by another local newspaper about romantic eating spots has mentioned the almighty Azerbaijan Grill, fellow lamb lovers. Long has my loins known the homeostatic pleasure of ingesting “The Azer,” as several fellow Press reporters have taken to calling this gem. The Azer’s lunch specials—which include moist, juicy lamb, chicken, salmon and several platters of other great eats accompanied with an entire tray of white or brown rice, a whole tomato and unpeeled raw onion, all at very reasonable prices, I might add—are legendary in Press headquarters. Its dinners—served within the backdrop of the place’s relaxing, enjoyable dining section upon tables dressed in clean white tablecloths—are the perfect Valentine’s Day smoocheroo, available, like It’s Greek To Me and the Post Office Cafe, long after the consumer holiday has passed, fellow lip smackers.

A friendly and knowledgeable staff, relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere and truly delicious meals make this a must-go destination. The owner himself is usually onsite, smiling and greeting customers, ensuring each visitor receives only the finest food and an exceptional dining experience. You don’t need no Valentine’s Day to start a love affair at this gorgeous vision of bird-fish-lamb-flesh beauty.

Mouth-watering, soul-satisfying chunks of moist, juicy chicken, salmon and lamb marinated with The Azer’s special flavorful spices and spread out atop a soft, welcoming bed of white or brown rice are an every day Valentine’s Day celebration, my friends. And whether kneecapped with a loved one or solo, these joyous feasts are guaranteed to make every chow-down one for the record books. Ask for additional cups of The Azer’s green spice and yogurt sauces, dear lamb freaks, and tell ’em Cooke sent ya!

For sharing the love of great food—and the love between one another—is not and should not be relegated to Valentine’s Day, dear reader-eaters. Sharing the love of great food—and the love between one another while partaking in such food—is an every day affair.

And remember: Tell ’em Cooke sent ya.

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