It was a full moon over Mattituck as the sultry sound of flamenco guitar played in the background and two families converged over a picnic table. “What should we get?” one mother asked another, before checking off items on a rectangular menu the size of two index cards. To their side, old friends gabbed over red wine, Marcona almonds and chunks of chorizo and Iberico ham. The scent of garlic, potatoes and baked cheese wafted through the air as small plates of patatas bravas (crispy, spiced potatoes in garlic aioli and paprika), cod fritters, camarones al ajillo (grilled shrimp in garlic and sherry) and various types of croquetas arrived.
“Yum!” exclaimed one of the kids, biting into a croqueta de papa, a finger shaped, golden-fried morsel filled with gooey soft potatoes, Manchego cheese and parsley, as his mother sipped white wine and dipped bread into a small plate of clams steamed in a broth of wine, shallots and garlic. The aroma was enough to send you to the Andalusian coast. Her friend nibbled on grilled carrots and beets served with Romesco sauce, made from roasted tomatoes and puréed almonds and hazelnuts, as her kids drank rose lemonade and devoured croquetas de Jamon, fried nuggets stuffed with Serrano ham.
Welcome to tapas night at Goodfood, a fresh food café and market on Pike Street known more for its eclectic menu of empanadas, fresh smoothies and locally sourced power bowls than for serving exotic cocktail fare. But offering quick, flavorful bites and good wine to her loyal customers seemed a perfect way for owner Luchi Masliah to celebrate the end of lockdown and fill a community need.
“I wanted to provide the area with a place for a small bite and glass of wine after work or a day at the beach,” she said. “Often times, you don’t want to have a full meal, but crave a little something that’s more than a sandwich and less than a three-course meal.”
With vineyards closing early and most local restaurants either requiring a reservation or relegating those who just want an appetizer and drink to the bar, she saw an opportunity. She applied for a beer and wine license at the end of 2019, then COVID hit. Though she reopened as soon as she could last year, she stuck to a take-out menu and didn’t think of expanding into tapas until this summer.
As fate would have it, the timing worked out in her favor.
“People started going out again and wanted maybe an early supper after the beach that was a step above a burger or the limited snacks you’d get at a vineyard,” Masliah said. “It’s a gentle way to break the ice, meet your neighbors and be social after being on lockdown for over a year.”
The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb tapar, or to cover, supposedly because tavern owners in Anadalusia, Spain needed to cover their customers’ glasses of sherry to keep the fruit flies out. They’d place salty bites on the plates to encourage more drinking, and according to The Joy of Cooking, these savory treats soon became the main attraction and a staple of Spanish cuisine. As it traveled, tapas morphed, incorporated twists from various regions, though Goodfood’s versions reflect the more traditional Spanish recipes, from empanada gallega, a double crusted Galician pie stuffed with tuna, onions, peppers, parsley and hard boiled eggs; tortilla Espanola, a mini potato and egg omelette; boquerones, anchovies marinated in olive and vinegar, and cured meats, cheese, breads and salted cod from Spain.
Masliah even features traditional wines from a zesty white Albariño, from Rias Baixas in Galicia, Spain, to a fruity sparkly, Vina Palaciega Cava Brut to smooth, velvety reds like Nacido del Quorum from Muilla, Spain, as well as local favorites like Croteaux’s more full bodied Jolie rosé and sparkling Cuvée Merlot, Leib Cellars’ Pinot Blanc and Merlot, as well as a Syrah rosé and red blend from Portugal.
“I stock what I like,” said Masliah, who added that she doesn’t have room for a wine cave. “It’s meant to go down easy, pair well with the food and not set you back too much.” No bottle costs more than $39.
Tapas may seem like a natural extension for someone born and bred in Montevideo, a Uruguayan city known for its bustling street food and Iberian influenced cuisine, but Masliah said she never ate tapas growing up.
“Uruguay is mainly Spanish and Italian, and you see that on every corner,” said Masliah, “but I learned to cook at home.” And home was a multiethnic fusion of flavors from the stuffed cabbage and schnitzel (or chicken Milanese) she learned from her Eastern European grandmother and mother, to her Turkish Jewish paternal grandmother’s bourekas, the Sephardic version of empanadas.
“I never made a single empanada until I came here,” said Masliah, pouring flour and butter into a giant mixer to prepare its dough. Though she never took a formal cooking class until she arrived in New York after college in the late ‘80s, working as an assistant chef at the New School to afford taking classes, she launched her first culinary venture back in Urugay. It was a catering company called Gula Gula (gula means gluttony but without the negative connotation), which she opened near Punta del Este, considered the Hamptons of South America. She still uses the name for her catering business and returned to coastal living 25 years ago when a friend bought the Amagansett Fish Co. and asked her to run it with her.
When they sold it, she opened Goodfood with the express purpose of serving her own take on empanadas and a place that could feature food sourced from local farms, from Sang Lee Farm’s greens and produce to organic meat from McCall Ranch in Cutchogue to eggs from Browders Birds in Mattituck.
Tapas night is the exception. To stay faithful to the classic Spanish canapé, she imports many of her ingredients, including the cod, tuna, hams and cheeses. “Spanish goat cheese is firmer, not spreadable and so delicious,” she said. “But you know me. I’m always changing things up. Don’t be surprised if I start featuring clams or oysters from a local shellfish company or introduce ceviche and seasonal specials once this gets going. We’re only two weeks in!”
Tapas night is every Thursday and Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Goodfood.
535 Pike Street (just off Love Lane). No reservations required.