Years ago, the Big Apple tasted Armenian


Armenian food was everyday food when I was growing up, but it could also be something mysterious and special if it involved a trip to a restaurant.


There were no Armenian restaurants in New Jersey, at least that I remember, but there were plenty in the far-off and forbidding land known as New York City.


Technically, Midtown Manhattan was only two or three miles from our front door, but the Hudson River might as well have been the Atlantic Ocean as far as my parents were concerned.


To my mother, who lived and worked in New Jersey all her adult life, New York was a crazy place full of crazy people who were best avoided. To my father, a world traveler who had lived and toiled in far crazier places, New York was simply a pain. The roar and bustle that inspired others to write symphonies just gave him a headache.


I first heard about the Armenian restaurants of New York from Uncle Arpag, my father’s best friend and adopted brother. He’d sometimes make the rounds on Saturday night, then recount the evening over coffee at our house on Sunday morning.


It all sounded exotic, especially the talk of nightclubs with bellydancers. (I thought they only existed on the cover of certain record albums that were kept out of reach.)


I knew the food was real because he always brought me some. I was probably 8 or 9 when Uncle Arpag surprised my father with a tinfoil tray of midia dolma, black mussels stuffed with rice and currants. I’d never seen or tasted anything like it.


To everyone’s surprise, I fell in love at first bite. From then on, Uncle Arpag made a point of bringing them for me.


My father’s aversion to New York travel eased just enough by the time I was in my teens to allow for a rare family trip to a museum or special event. The occasion was always marked by a visit to an Armenian restaurant.


I particularly remember the Dardanelles, a small and very New York down-the-steps place near The Village. The Ararat, somewhat larger and farther uptown. But most especially, I remember The Golden Horn, a lavish and impressive place in Midtown that seemed by far the most upscale of Armenian eateries.


Everything at these restaurants tasted special because it was different from the Armenian food my mother made. The seasonings, the textures, even the names on the menu were all just a little off kilter but not in a bad way. And like midia dolma, some things were not familiar at all.


My favorite discovery was the Golden Horn’s ekmek kadayif, a dessert that featured the sweetest honey drizzled over an impossibly rich layer of cream nearly as thick as butter. The technique was said to involve standing on a ladder and dripping cream slowly into a pan.


“My madzoon is just as thick, and I don’t have to stand on a ladder,” my mother insisted. She was right on both counts, but I could have her home-made yogurt any day. From my first taste, I made sure ekmek kadayif was added to Uncle Arpag’s take-out menu.


By the time I met and married Robyn, I was working in Manhattan but the Armenian restaurants were all off my usual path. We drove into The City just once to have dinner at The Dardanelles. (I’d practiced ordering in Armenian but the waiter just looked at me, puzzled. I figured my Armenian was even worse than I imagined until I noticed his name tag read “Julio.”)


Soon after that, we moved to Florida. On a trip back North in the mid 1980s, I was determined to take Robyn and our daughter Mandy to some of the restaurants I remembered. But they were all gone, and not much has come to take their place.


It puzzles me. I understand changing demographics and shifting tastes, but how can a city that boasts of being so cosmopolitan be so lacking in Armenian cuisine?


For me, a trip to Manhattan will never be quite as special without dinner at an Armenian restaurant. My wife makes wonderful midia dolma, but she draws the line at standing on a ladder.


So I’ll have to go on missing ekmek kadayif, which is a shame for my taste buds but probably a plus for my arteries.

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25 Comments

    1. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      There is an Armenian Restaurant in Queens called Sevan and there was one in Brooklyn called Garden Bay Cafe, but i closed a few months ago. They are/were both run by Soviet Armenians.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      There is an Armenian Restaurant in Queens called Sevan and there was one in Brooklyn called Garden Bay Cafe, but i closed a few months ago. They are/were both run by Soviet Armenians.

      Reply
    3. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      There is an Armenian Restaurant in Queens called Sevan and there was one in Brooklyn called Garden Bay Cafe, but i closed a few months ago. They are/were both run by Soviet Armenians.

      Reply
    4. Unknown April 30, 2019 at 5:38 am

      Do you know when the Dardanelles was around? I have an old matchbook in a purse from my aunt who died some years ago and I am trying to figure out when she was there. Thanks

      Reply
    5. Robyn Kalajian April 30, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      We posted an item about the lack of Armenian restaurants years ago. Here is a comment a reader posted regarding the Dardanelles which might answer your question: "I was personal friends with the owner of The Dardanelles Restaurant which located on University Place, between 11th and 12th streets. Mel was his name, I am not sure of his proper spelling but let me try… Melik Ojohnson. I know his last name might be mispelled, but Mel was a great man. He opened the restaurant in 1958 and in the early 70's we became friends. My dad and I serviced the place for all it's electrical needs, for which we never charged him. At any time of the day or night, we would go to NYC and fix anything he needed. In return, Mel never charged either of us for a meal when we were in town. In fact if he was bored, he would call us into the city, just to enjoy his food and sit with him. Mel attended my wedding in 1982 and brought with him my favorite, 2 large trays of stuffed grape leaves and stuffed mussels. Carol was his wife and he had two daughters. In fact, around the time of my wedding, The Dardanelles closed and Mel was thinking of living the retired life. In April of 83, if I recall, I spoke to him about opening an Armenian Fast Food Restaurant, and he was to come to our house to teach me some of their cooking methods. That very night while playing cards with his wife and friends, Mel suffered from a massive heart attack and died at the card table. He was one of the nicest men and a best friend anyone could have known. I was just thinking of him and searched the web for his restaurant and found this blog. I also found a picture of the inside of the restaurant, which brought back many happy memories. Thank you for the kind words about my old friends place, he made a vast number of people happy with his personality, cooking and restaurant for many years."

      Reply
  1. David Blasco April 19, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Great story. Wish those places were there still.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    There is an Armenian Restaurant in Queens called Sevan and there was one in Brooklyn called Garden Bay Cafe, but i closed a few months ago. They are/were both run by Soviet Armenians. There are also a few places that serve Armenian food in Manhattan but also serve Lebanese and other Mediterranean food.

    Reply
  3. Ed Schonfeld April 8, 2013 at 12:38 am

    You remember many fine Armenian Restaurants in NYC. I remember eating many good meals at the Balkan Armenian in the East 20's before it closed, probably 40 years ago. The memory lingers on.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous October 22, 2014 at 2:38 am

    The Balkan was the best of the three located in the 27th & Lexington Ave. area. The owner's son eventually opened the Dardanelles continuing the Balkan's tradition of excellence. Alas, the Dardanelles died with the premature death of the son.

    Ararat was the last remaining in Manhattan I'm aware of, and that eventually fell victim to area changes. It also carried a hint of Lebanese influence on the cuisine, rather than the more classical Constantinople Armenian cuisine. You would not find ekmek kadaif on the menu. (Yes, you had to stand up high on chair or ladder to pour the hot cream to form bubbles.) Yes, it is a heavenly desert, and people will be surprised that the sweet base of the desert is made of bread.

    Reply
  5. Unknown January 30, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Hi Douglas!
    My Dad, George Berberian, owned the Golden Horn restaurant in NYC. The food was fabulous, and am writing a cookbook with all the recipes. Feel free to contact me at any time. I believe our family was related too!

    Reply
  6. Unknown January 30, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Hi Douglas!
    My Dad, George Berberian, owned the Golden Horn restaurant in NYC. The food was fabulous, and am writing a cookbook with all the recipes. Feel free to contact me at any time. I believe our family was related too!

    Reply
    1. Robyn Kalajian January 31, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Sandie, What A nice surprise to hear from you! Please contact us via robyn@thearmeniankitchen.com, so that we can catch up. I have some questions for you, and Doug has something he'd like to send you. Thanks, Robyn

      Reply
  7. Anonymous January 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Hi, Sandie and Robyn. Is the Golden Horn cookbook published yet? When I was a child, my family also to make special trips from Brooklyn to a wonderful Armenian restaurant in Manhattan. It must have been the Golden Horn. I especially remember a yorgurtli kabab and, of course, the ekmek. I have looked up other ekmek recipes but they don't appear to be very similar to the dessert I remember, which had a deep orange/honey color and the rich dollop of cream on top. I would love that recipe!

    Reply
    1. Unknown November 13, 2018 at 11:53 pm

      Hi! The Golden Horn cookbook is in the works with family and restaurant photo's too! These recipes had been handed down from generation to generation. Delicious and nutritious!

      Reply
  8. Unknown February 24, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    My grandfather, Aram Terzian, was the head chef at the Balkan Armenian restaurant in the 1940s and early 1950s, before he passed away in 1958. While I was too young to have eaten there at that time, my mom always told me about these restaurant days – first, when my grandpa had his own place until meat rationing during WWII forced him to close, and later, about the Balkan and the Berberian family. (I’m a musician, and the great singer Kathy Berberian was also part of that same family.) sometime in the late 1970s, when I was in my early 20s, I decided “enough is enough! I should find out what this restaurant is like!” So I brought a friend and we went to dinner there. Upon entering, I introduced myself to the owner as Aram Terzian’s granddaughter. “Oh my, your grandpa was the Maven, we still use his recipes today!” (“Yeah, sure” I thought.) well, it turned out EVERY Item we ate that evening tasted EXACTLY like the food we had all the time at home. My grandma and mom were also great cooks who passed on grandpa’s recipes. He never really let them cook while he was still alive, but they had learned while watching him in the kitchen all those years. I left the Balkan that night not only full of fantastically delicious heart warming food, but full of pride for who my grandfather was, and my roots. (And the Ekmek Kadayif was really great!) So, to all those who posted about the Balkan, thank you fir adding to my sense of pride! Deborah Steinglass

    Reply
  9. Unknown September 15, 2018 at 4:54 am

    Thank you for your inquiry. The Famous Reciples of the a Golden Horn Restaurant will be available in cookbook form including the Ekmek Khadayif! It should be available to purchase in early 2019 including photos! You can contact me below

    Reply
    1. Robyn Kalajian September 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Wonderful news! Count me in, Sandie!

      Reply
  10. Julie October 20, 2020 at 12:35 am

    When I was a young child, my dad worked at Radio City Music Hall in the orchestra. He worked every Thanksgiving. My mom and I would go into Manhattan from Queens to meet him every Thanksgiving. While the movie was playing, we would all walk down to The Golden Horn restaurant for our "Thanksgiving" dinner. We were not Greek or Armenian but to this day is seems that Thanksgiving is more about stuffed grape vine leaves than Turkey and stuffing.

    Reply
    1. Robyn Kalajian October 25, 2020 at 7:12 pm

      What a wonderful memory, Julie! Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  11. Lucy McD December 3, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    I used to go there with my mother and aunt when my grandmother was in town, in the late 1950s and early '60s. We lived at Tenth and University, so it was great to discover such a wonderful restaurant only a step away. I have another story about Dardanelles, which I loved, but I'm saving it for my memoir. It's wonderful to find a web page devoted to it.

    Reply
    1. Robyn Kalajian December 4, 2020 at 8:43 pm

      Thank you, Lucy! I hope some day to read your memoir.

      Reply
  12. Bonjukian July 9, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    I was in my 30s when the ARARAT restaurant was in East side NYC. My cousin who was very Armenian oriented used to meet me there. From there we would hang in the Village with Armenian friends and go to dance clubs that played middle-eastern music. I used to hang with ACYOA & ASA since I was 17 years old. Stopped doing Armenian things when I lived in California which is weird because there are so many Armenians living there but most are from Armenia. They have a different mentality and there were gangs beating up on minorities in Hollywood where I lived. Later lived in Beverly Hills at a friend’s house and worked in the Entertainment Industry for 6 years and then moved back to NYC to work with USA NETWORKS. I remember the Ararat Restaurant and had a great time hanging there on Friday nights. With regentrification of NYC all those leases became too high to handle and the Armenian restaurants and stores that sold middle eastern food closed. Haven’t been in NYC for 5 years now living in NJ but still my heart is Armenian even if my married name is Odar.

    Reply
    1. Robyn Kalajian July 18, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      A very interesting background! It’s what your heart feels that really matters.

      Reply

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