After more than two decades burying her hands in flour, butter and sugar, pastry chef Tricia Vanech launched a second act—the Greek Flame in Haworth. She says she wanted to create a comfortable neighborhood place where she could share her Greek heritage and the traditional dishes her father cooked for her when she was a girl.
Born in Jersey City, the Harrington Park resident trained at the Baltimore Culinary Arts Institute and spent five years learning French technique alongside pastry chef Andre Schneider of Teaneck’s Patisserie St. Michel. She eventually launched her own pastry shop, La Petite Patisserie, in Jersey City in 1986, later moving it to Dumont and closing it in 2006. After a stint producing frozen macarons, she opened the Greek Flame in 2017.
Vanech says her grandfather owned a diner on Jackson Avenue in Jersey City in the 1920s. “Cooking and the Greeks, you know,” she says with a laugh.
The Greek Flame occupies a 28-seat storefront in Haworth’s quiet downtown. Vintage family photos, as well as Vanech’s own shots from a 1999 trip to her family’s ancestral village outside Sparta, festoon the otherwise spare space.
The menu offers Greek home dishes along with Vanech’s variations. She runs the kitchen while her business and life partner, Denise Vela, manages the front of the house and tends to the plants and herbs in the front window.
The menu is unpretentious, and, despite her lineage, the portions are anything but Spartan. The food is easily on a par with the most popular taverna-style Greek restaurants in the area.
An order of artichoke fritters serves as an example of the care that goes into each dish. Vanech describes the fritters as “Greekified.” The inspiration, she says, was Korean scallion pancakes. She dips artichoke hearts in a batter spiked with cumin, paprika and lemon, and fries them twice, ensuring crispness. Served with a cool dipping sauce of Greek yogurt, honey, lemon and vinegar, the fritters were luscious and creamy inside. The texture suggested a fried oyster, except vegetarian.
I also loved her traditional keftedes, bite-size lamb meatballs in bright lemony avgolemono sauce. Another winner was saganaki, a crock of salty, tangy, bubbling cheese, perfect for scooping up with warm pita.
Skewers of grilled chicken and lamb souvlaki, lightly seasoned with herbs, cinnamon and lemon, were juicy and flavorful, but I was more impressed with Vanech’s personal cooking. I especially liked the Chicken Youvetsi, one of her dad’s recipes and a variation on a traditional lamb dish. She slow cooks chicken thighs in a velvety sauce of tomato, onion and chicken stock and serves it over orzo and crumbled feta. Also tasty was a hearty, belly-warming braise of mammoth bone-in short ribs, large enough to feed a small family (and maybe a few cousins).
Salmon phyllo is her novel take on spanakopita, the Greek spinach pie. Baking salmon filet, spinach and bits of feta in a phyllo wrap, Vanech pulls off an impressive feat—keeping the fish buttery and the phyllo delightfully crisp. However, another of Vanech’s Greekified dishes, a chicken pot pie topped with phyllo, was less successful. The phyllo had a pleasing crunch, but the filling, bound with a thick velouté, was just too gloppy for my taste.
Do sample Vanech’s sweets, many of which are favorites from her La Petite days. Cheesecake and crème brûlée were both excellent, but I would advise skipping the crumbly baklava. Instead, order the fantastic bread pudding. Made from croissants, the buttery, custardy pudding is laced with cinnamon, raspberry jam and rum, studded with dried cranberries and glistens with an apricot caramel glaze.
Having a pastry chef running the kitchen has its benefits.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $8–$10; entrées, $16.95–$25; desserts, $4–$6
Ambience:Casual and homey
Service:Friendly and attentive