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New York Deli dishes out Southern hospitality

by Lee Adams

‘“It’s good for you,’” said my waitress at New York Deli on Battleground when I asked about the Astoria, a marinated grilled beef wrap with tangy yogurt dressing, spring lettuce, fresh tomatoes and thinly-sliced onions.

‘“I’m just not sure about the yogurt dressing,’” I told her, and co-owner Julia Bissoondutt assured me it was tasty.

And she was right. I never expected something so healthy to taste so good. The wrap has a crispness and fresh vegetable taste that goes wonderfully with the warm, grilled beef. I thoroughly enjoyed it while munching on my chips and dill pickle between bites. And I was feeling good about myself, too. I’d found something healthy, and I actually liked it. I am by no means a health nut, but as my waistline has begun mocking my pants lately, I’ve been looking for nutritious options. I’m just the type of guy who’s going to go for the deep-fried stuff if it’s available.

But the temptations began the moment I walked in the door. At the back of the restaurant sits a large, glass case full of homemade cheesecakes and pies that I couldn’t take my eyes off. I told myself no. I told myself it cost too much. I told myself to concentrate on the healthy lunch that I was actually enjoying. But when my waitress asked me if I was interested in dessert how could I lie? After all, my mother taught me not to lie and I had been eyeing the cherry cheesecake since I sat down, so yes, I was definitely interested.

I approached the counter to take a closer look. That’s when a little devil appeared on my shoulder and told me, ‘“Hey, you ate a healthy lunch, this will just balance it out. Nothing lost, nothing gained.’”

So I ordered that cherry cheesecake, and man was it goooood. It had a light and fluffy texture (which, I told myself, meant it was healthy) and just kind of melted in my mouth. I slowly ate the cherry topping, popping the fruit between my teeth, closing my eyes and doing a little happy dance with my shoulders (yes, I know I’m weird).

The deli opened July 1 in it’s new location at Battleground Plaza and already it was packed with patrons. Julia was busy making small talk with customers and dishing out lots of Southern hospitality. And customers approached her to tell her how good their lunches were and to wish her success. Some even gave her hugs and pats on the back and said, ‘“See ya next time.’”

It was a lot like being in a small, country diner where everyone knows the owner and the owner knows everyone’s favorite dish. Except this is called the New York Deli, and the walls are covered with pictures of New York monuments and buildings, and Julia and her sister Jaya grew up there. They moved there 25 years ago from the South American country of Guyana. But other than that, they fit in really well. And they both said they quickly grew to like the Triad and the Southern hospitality they found here.

‘“People here believe in Southern hospitality,’” said Jaya. ‘“I like that.’”

After moving from Guyana to New York, Julia and Jaya grew up in the Far Rockaway area in a community of other Guyanese people. There they liked to hang out with two brothers, Ricky and Rishy Bissoondutt, also from Guyana, and eventually, you guessed it, the two sisters married the two brothers.

Julia persuaded Jaya and Rishy to move to the area, and to make a little extra money they decided to open up a small take out restaurant in the old Domino’s Pizza location. The place was an immediate success and within the first week they had to add a patio for seating. But their success wasn’t based on luck. They had a couple of secret weapons. Jaya is a pastry chef with a degree from Johnson and Wales, and she brought along with her Chef Tino from a restaurant back in New York.

That was last August. It’s been less than a year and already they have regular customers and a booming business. It took them nearly a month to move from the gas station to their new location and still on their first day Jaya says customers were lined up outside the door at 6:30 a.m.

When asked where they see themselves another year from now, they say, ‘“hopefully opening another [restaurant].’”

In addition to serving breakfast and sandwiches, the sisters are working on an extensive list of entrees, a few of which are already being featured as specials like lasagna and meatloaf cooked gourmet style. And, of course, there’s a long list of cheesecakes and pies made by Jaya.

All the food is fresh and made on the spot. Can’t find anything on the menu? Don’t let that bother you. Chef Tino can whip up just about anything you can think of. Just request it and they’ll try it. If you need a special cake or dessert for a party then Jaya can make that for you too. Want your great grandmother’s special cake, but don’t want to bake it yourself? Just bring the recipe to Jaya and she’ll make it up for you. Now that’s Southern hospitality. Not bad for a couple of New Yorkers.

To comment on this article, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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