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Nice New Albanian in Bronx (Pelham Parkway Area)

Jim Leff Oct 17, 2010 05:56 PM

Qebaptore Kalaja BBQ and Grill 2132 Cruger Ave 347-810-7164.
open 7 days 10 to 9.

New, clean, tidy, friendly little Albanian, and non-private! Anyone can eat there!

I didn't do much of a check-out, but it's very promising. Right down the block from the Albanian bourek place at 758 Lydig Ave

You can see the (modest) menu at their web site: http://www.kalajagrill.com

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  1. d
    Dave Feldman Oct 18, 2010 08:57 PM

    I've had food cooked BY Albanians many times, but never eaten at an Albanian restaurant. Any tips on what is unique or particularly good in Albanian cuisine?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Dave Feldman
      Jim Leff Oct 19, 2010 05:47 AM

      It's much like lots of other Balkan stuff, but with its own twist. And, really, isn't all cuisine about enjoying the twists?

      As for "particularly good", I sort of take it as an article of religious faith that there are no good or bad dishes, just good or bad iterations. Except potato chips, which are always good!

      1. re: Dave Feldman
        MVNYC Nov 13, 2010 08:45 AM

        Food from Kosova and Northern Albania tends to be more similar to Serbian cuisine while southern Albanian food tends to be more like Turkish and Greek. That said all of the cuisines are similar but with their own twists. I am looking forward to trying this place.

        If you enjoy yoghurt, homemade Kos is always a treat. It is sour and not so thick but you do eat it with a spoon. Tarator is good too in the warner months. they list it as a drink but it is more like a soup. Also I would reckon the namesake qebapa would be pretty good. Again, kebabs are popular throughout the Balkans, Anatolia, Western and Central Asia but the spicing and technique somewhat differ. The stuffed peppers, beef cubes and beef and beans stew are also what I would try.

        As a side note most if not all Albanian restaurants you will see are run by Northern Albanians or Kosovars so that is the style you will most likely run into here in the states. The Southern Albanians arrived much earlier in the US and never seemed to develop a restaurant culture in NY at least. Not sure about Boston or Detroit.

        1. re: MVNYC
          Jim Leff Nov 13, 2010 07:02 PM

          Great info, thanks. Yeah, in that part of the world, driving 50 miles is like switching civilizations!

          1. re: Jim Leff
            MVNYC Nov 14, 2010 08:47 AM

            It is pretty interesting travelling the Balkans foodwise. It is basically like getting a history lesson as the food slightly shifts based on your geographical position. The Austro Hungarian, Venetian and Ottoman Empires influence on the cuisine and all derivations of the two shift along fairly historical lines. Food in Ljubljana is very similar to Austrian Cuisine and this influence steadily decreases as you make your way through Serbia and inland Croatia as Hungarian and Turkish elements fuse with indigenous Balkan cuisine. Coastal Croatian and Slovenian food shares much in common with Venetian cuisine but with a Balkan flair. Northern Albania and Kosovo show more of an Ottoman twist and pork is not common but is similar to Serbian otherwise. Southern Albanian food is very similar to Northern Greek cuisine with a reliance on butter, pork, potatoes, sheep and goat's milk cheeses, yoghurt, dark leafy greens and green peppers. My family is from this region so this is what I ate growing up. The interesting variations of kebabs and borek type items throughout the region are very interesting. A lot has to do with which herbs are common as the topography changes.

            I have not been to Macedonia, Montenegro or Bulgaria so I have less knowledge of those cuisines but from what I have had in the States they seem to follow a similar pattern.

            1. re: MVNYC
              Jim Leff Nov 14, 2010 12:25 PM

              Well said. But of course it's true of all places, not just the Balkans. It all blends. The Balkans are slightly blendy-er just because so many cultures have rammed through there. But even in a place like central Mexico, there's variation and segue due to factors such as geography, climate, proximity to trade routes, plain old human creativity, etc.

              I love to eat around the borders...

              1. re: Jim Leff
                MVNYC Nov 16, 2010 04:36 AM

                Definitely agree, that is one of the reasons I love traveling. Also one of the reasons I love talking to Restaurant owners about their pasts.

          2. re: MVNYC
            m
            MizYellowRose Nov 15, 2010 11:47 PM

            What an interesting thread! I'm half-Albanian---born and raised in MA. As for Albanian restaurants in MA --- My family had friends and relatives in the restaurant business, however they didn't serve Albanian food. One owned a diner while the other owned an American-style meat and potatoes kind of restaurant. A few years ago, there was an Albanian restaurant in the Roslindale section of Boston called Cafe Appollonia but it appears to be long gone. I regret that I never got to try it.

            Most of the Albanian foods I grew up eating were very similar to Greek cuisine. That is understandable since Albania was occupied by the Greeks for many years. Plus my family came from southern Albania near the Greek border and are Orthodox. There are some differences. For example, Greeks make "spanakopita" which has feta cheese in it, while Albanians make "lakror" or "burek" and use cottage cheese rather than feta.

            I looked at the menu at Qebaptore Kalaja---and to be honest, the only item that was familiar to me was the baklava.

            Still, it would be very interesting to try the food there. Thanks for starting this thread!

        2. DaveCook Nov 11, 2010 10:14 PM

          I'm glad your post gave cause to pay my respects at the "castle" once more:

          http://www.eatingintranslation.com/20...

          These nice folks still entertain too few travelers, alas, in their distant outer borough.

          3 Replies
          1. re: DaveCook
            Jim Leff Nov 12, 2010 09:25 AM

            Thanks, Dave. Are you sure you explored all nooks and crannies? Many's the time I walked into a place, tried half the menu, thought it good-not-great, and later discovered that I'd missed the one or two or three astounding items. In fact, people could visit my five or so favorite restaurants in the world, miss the right stuff, and come away disappointed.

            Of course, it might also be that this place simply IS good-not-great. But that would end a long streak for me of "looks good" places winding up actually being good! I've been pretty consistent since I was fooled by a bakery in Nova Scotia in 2005.

            one thing caught my eye: "albanian bakery in connecticut"???

            1. re: Jim Leff
              DaveCook Nov 12, 2010 09:47 PM

              I can be a tough grader, rarely effusive with praise. My mention of how the homemade cream pie jiggled, for example, is meant to imply that this dessert isn't refrigerator-weary. At rest, it tends to stay at rest, but when set in motion by a fork, it tends to stay in motion, at least for a little while. It's fresh, and it's good, just not revelatory. The other dishes I've ordered, likewise. I make no claims to having sampled them all. I hope some other Chowhounds explore Kalaja's remaining nooks and crannies; I'd be very happy to be astounded by a dish I haven't tried.

              As for the Albanian bakery in Connecticut, I'll write more when I can.

              -----
              Kalaja
              2132 Cruger Ave, Bronx, NY 10462

              1. re: DaveCook
                Jim Leff Nov 13, 2010 08:05 AM

                I'm waiting with baited breath for more on the CT bakery.

                And there's got to be some room between "good-not-great" and "revelatory/effusiveness-worthy". Folks like all of us here on this board, who try so hard to eat at a high level of deliciousness, ought to slice the spectrum above "very good" quite finely, I'd think (here's how I slice it, fwiw: http://jimleff.info/eating-by-the-num...

                ....though, if you're a purist who staunchly holds out for chow that absolutely slays you, I can only admire and respect that!

          2. Cheese Boy Nov 18, 2010 10:26 PM

            Happen to be in the neighborhood, so I made a point of stopping by. Found the gates down, and a "For Sale" sign adorning it. Not sure what happened.

            15 Replies
            1. re: Cheese Boy
              Jim Leff Nov 20, 2010 06:04 PM

              Crap. They were always empty. I never got back there for dinner. I feel guilty.

              No wonder Albanians never cook Albanian food. People for some reason don't want to eat it, even in nice welcoming places like this one. Argh.

              1. re: Jim Leff
                m
                MizYellowRose Nov 21, 2010 03:43 PM

                That's a shame. I was seriously thinking about trying it next time I was in town. It seems that when someone opens up an Albanian restaurant, it doesn't last long---even in communities with many Albanians. I thought Cafe Appollonia in Boston would last since there is a sizable Albanian community there and figured that Qebaptore Kalaja would hang in there for the same reason.

                IMO, part of the problem is that many people don't know a thing about Albania. Many times I've had people ask me where Albania was. Some even think that Albanians are the same as Albinos (seriously!) or that I'm talking about people from Albany. For reasons like that, one of my cousins just tells people she's Greek. She says it's a lot simpler than trying to explain it all.

                So...given all that, if people don't know about Albania, they're not going to seek out the food. I just figured that the local Albanian community would have supported the place...

                1. re: MizYellowRose
                  MVNYC Nov 23, 2010 08:50 AM

                  I wanted to try this place, that is too bad.

                  Miz-- There are still other Albanian restaurants on or near Arthur avenue that you can try if you head down this way. Luckily I haven't run into that issue that much in NYC. When people don't know where it is I just say north of Greece and across the Adriatic from Italy.

                  1. re: MVNYC
                    m
                    MizYellowRose Nov 23, 2010 02:09 PM

                    I wondered about Arthur Avenue. Last time I was up there, I noticed some Albanian-owned business. One of my brothers is friends with Kosovar immigrants who took him to a place (quite some time ago) in the Pelham Bay Area. This was before the smoking ban and he said that you could hardly breathe in there. Plus, there weren't any women to be seen in place. I've read that many of the restaurants owned by Albanian Muslims either don't allow women in there---or at the very least it is frowned on. Plus, in many places, the staff doesn't speak English. I only know a smattering of Albanian words and on top of that, there are different dialects. That's why Qebaptore Kalaja intrigued me. It appeared to be a place that was welcoming and accepting of everyone.

                    MVNYC---Do you know if any of the places in the Arthur Avenue vicinity have staff that speak English and are welcoming to all? If so, I would be interested to know about them. Thank you!

                    1. re: MizYellowRose
                      rose water Mar 24, 2011 11:28 AM

                      Tony and Tina's pizza, on Arthur Ave, is a straightforward pizza joint that also has great Albanian bureks, and tart creamy yogurt. I much prefer it over the Lydig St burek place referenced above.

                      -----
                      Dukagjini Burektorja
                      758 Lydig Ave, Bronx, NY 10462

                      Tony & Tina's Pizzeria
                      2483 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458

                      1. re: rose water
                        m
                        Mike R. Mar 26, 2011 06:36 PM

                        Indeed, Tony &Tina's with their exquisite Pumpkin Burek...if it's in the house, buy a few and try saving them for a rainy day!

                        1. re: Mike R.
                          rose water Mar 27, 2011 01:29 PM

                          It's a great idea, especially since they're seasonal and not consistently offered. Do you freeze them? If the pumpkin's not available, the cheese ones are also fantastic.

                          1. re: rose water
                            m
                            Mike R. Mar 29, 2011 11:38 AM

                            They freeze OK, but I assure you, they won't be in there long.

                            1. re: rose water
                              CitySpoonful Jun 10, 2011 04:17 AM

                              When we went to Tiny & Tina's a few months back, the pumpkin burek wasn't availbable, so we went for the spinach burek instead, with a side of kos (yogurt) and a tullomba thrown in for good measure. (Full details/photos of our meal at: http://www.cityspoonful.com/tony-tina...

                              )

                              Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the burek. The pastry was chewy and tasteless -- not crispy and light, as we had anticipated. And the filling tasted just like the frozen spinach dip you can buy at the grocery store -- i.e., way too creamy and rich for our taste. Is that how the filling is meant to taste?

                              The kos, however, was lovely -- intensely tangy and light, like homemade Indian dahi (yogurt). This definitely helped to improve the burek, but it wasn't enough to save it from its gloppy filling and chewy/greasy pastry shell.

                              As for the tullomba: It was soft and way sweet. It's hard not to enjoy that combo, though we had hoped the dough itself might have a distinct taste, which sadly, was not to be.

                              Do we owe this restaurant another try? Is the pumpkin burek worlds better than its disapointing spinach cousin?

                              -----
                              Tony & Tina's Pizzeria
                              2483 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458

                              1. re: CitySpoonful
                                rose water Jun 10, 2011 06:03 AM

                                The spinach is my least favorite of their bureks, and I agree that it tastes like spinach dip. I much prefer their meat, cheese, and pumpkin bureks. Each is pretty simple, so actually, i most like having a little bit of all three. But the most important trick is to ask them to heat it up in the oven (or to bring home to heat up at home). Their default is to microwave, which results in sog. In the oven, the crisp outer layers and the soft chewy inner layers are fantastic.

                                1. re: CitySpoonful
                                  m
                                  Mike R. Jun 19, 2011 04:51 AM

                                  "rose water" is on-the-money about microwaved bureks - don't do it!

                                  It's a deadly combination for most baked goods, especially flaky pastry strudels, samosas and, of course, bureks.

                                  nd, yes, the pumpkin is world's apart from the others.

                                  1. re: Mike R.
                                    CitySpoonful Jun 21, 2011 06:35 AM

                                    Yes, that would certainly explain why our burek was soggy -- though doesn't explain the horrid, creamed spinach filling, unfortunately. :) But it sounds like it's worth going back when pumpkin bureks are available -- so we'll give it another shot.

                                    1. re: CitySpoonful
                                      MVNYC Jun 21, 2011 04:00 PM

                                      I usually get either the cheese or the meat burek with a kos on the side. The spinach is the weakest of the three. The oven is a must, just tell them that when you order, it makes a world of difference

                                      1. re: MVNYC
                                        Jim Leff Jun 22, 2011 05:09 PM

                                        I don't really join the chorus on this one. I don't have a lot of experience with spinach dip, so I don't have a built-up aversion. And I'd never expect sprightly verdant Alice Waters spinach in a balkan pastry pie. So I'm as down with the spinach as any of the other stuff they make.

                                        NEVER EVER let anyone nuke a bourek, though. Can't believe these guys go to all this trouble to evoke flaky crustiness, then voluntarily destroy it. But the Balkans have always been hotbeds of paradox and self-contradiction.

                          2. re: MizYellowRose
                            MVNYC Mar 29, 2011 06:25 AM

                            They speak English at the Gurra Cafe. The food is decent enough and I eat there every so often. If you know a smattering of Albanian words they will be a lot friendlier.

                            -----
                            Gurra Cafe
                            2325 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458

                  2. DaveCook Apr 2, 2011 06:48 PM

                    I'd meant to surprise you, but the surprise was on me. Kalaja, the "nice new Albanian" noted by Jim Leff in October and that closed in November, reopened early this year under the same ownership but different management. I'd eaten at the revived Kalaja twice, and was planning an extended review, when I stopped by for dinner not long ago to find the security gate down and a "for sale" sign affixed. And this, after I'd passed up eats at several other spots along White Plains Rd.

                    I've attached a photo of a very moist and meaty speca te mbushur. Sorry you can enjoy it only secondhand.

                    Kalaja always provided lots of bread to mop up after stuffed peppers and the like. On that same visit I asked the new counterman about the "Albanian bakery" that I'd mentioned in an earlier post, and that had piqued Jim's interest. He identified it (with a torn-off bread-bag label) as the Glenbrook Bakery, aka Spinelli's, aka Lenny V's, of Stamford, Connecticut. I'm not clear on the ownership (or even the proper name) of that bakery, but I did confirm that they have Albanian bakers on hand. And though my timing has been poor on two occasions, I did snap a photo of their brief burek menu.

                     
                     
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