Ninth Avenue international, the greek foods store right behind the port authority bus terminal, is filled with dazzling displays of nuts, legumes, grains, olives, spices, cheeses and olive oil at rock-bottom prices.
The grocery selection is wonderful but if you want tops of the fare go straight for the counter and ask for a container of taramosalata.
Kostantinos “Sam” Karamouzis, notes that he owns “an old fashioned grocery store.” We sell everything by the pound,” he notes. “Most of our wares come from Greece, but we have goods from other countries as well,” says Mr Karamouzis, adding “we want to promote Greek products, from olives and cheeses, olive oils, and some Greek things that are packaged here, like dolmades.”
But as he notes, very proudly, “what we do really well... our products are what they call dips here, taramoslata (egg roe salad), tzatziki (yoghurt-garlic dip), revythosalata (chickpea salad), melitzanosalata (aubergine salad), and skordalia (garlic-potato puree). These are very fine products that many prefer and they sell very well.” He says he gets Feta from Kalavryta, kaseri from Trikala, and olives from Aigio.
Mr Karamouzis, as the creator of the store's dips, has acquired a cult following among both home cooks and professional chefs. Basing it on the traditional recipe, he has devised what chef Rick Moonen calls "the world's best taramosalata". Chef Rick Moonen, an owner of the highly regarded Greek restaurant Molyvos, in Manhattan, got his recipe for taramosalata from Mr.Karamouzis. The restaurant version is similar - except in price. At Molyvos, an appetizer-size serving is $3.50. At the store, it's $4 a pound.
What makes it so special? "Well" Mr.Karamouzis says, " Maybe the secret is the soda water." A spritz of seltzer transforms what can be a heavy, thick paste into a lightand creamy blend of yogurt, orange carp roe, potato, onions, bread, almonds, olive oil and lemon juice. The ingredients in this dip, like all in the store, are fresh and superb: they include extra-virgin Greek olive oil and fresh, Whole-milk yogurt that is a blend of cow's milk and sheep's milk yogurts. Add raw vegetables and pita bread and you have a party. Whatever the taramosalata has it has garnered the praises of no less than the New York Times
In the gritty shadows of the Port Authority terminal, this small Hell's Kitchen market specializes in imported spices, staples and delicacies for the adventurous home cook. On a table adjacent to the cash register, a ceramic jar of Indonesian octopus (a favorite of renowned foodie David Rosengarten) sits within tentacle’s reach of an open carton of bulk Israeli couscous, which shares floor space with a tall drum of lava-red Hungarian paprika, a contingent of wildly-hued Indian spices, and housemade platters of Greek baklava, spanikopita, halvah, yogurt and feta cheese.
All this has not come easy for Mr Karamouzis. Part of his recent success he attributes to the recent building boom in the area and the upgrade of the neighborhood. But in reality it seems it has been mostly very hard, laborious work by the now 72 year old Mr Karamouzis, who wants to “retire, after 12-14 hours a day, six days a week, for 35 years, all I want is to retire.”
When asked what will he do after he retires, he jokingly answers, “just wait until I kick the bucket.”