Kiki Karamintzas

Kiki's is on the corner of Division Street, right by the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. There’s no official signage but it’s sort of great that the spot maintains a certain level of secrecy now that it’s gaining popularity. Once a hidden gem, the Greek taverna is always bustling. Kiki Karamintzas greets guests as they pour in, with a huge smile on her face, and is often exchanging hugs with exiting regulars as she sorts accommodations. We love the intimate, neighborhood feeling at Kiki’s and the no-fuss menu, that is so consistently delicious, so we popped by during some quiet time to learn more about one of our favorite destinations.

When did Kiki’s open? 
We opened in April of last year so we’re almost a year in.

What made you want to open a restaurant? 
I grew up in the business. My parents have always been in the industry. My playpen was legitimately in the kitchen of a restaurant. My father still has a pizzeria upstate. I’m a fan of hospitality, that sounds weird but I’m very comfortable in this business. I love socializing, hosting people and filling their bellies.

My partners and I thought that there would be a place for Kiki’s in the neighborhood. It’s a type of food that we’re familiar with and wanted to share. We noticed a void, in this neighborhood specifically, when it came to Greek food. There are a couple of places in the city, mostly uptown, that I don’t want to ignore and who are doing their thing but this is our hood and we know our neighbors and we wanted to bring this style of food down here. 

The restaurant is named after you, and you’re here pretty much every night, but who else makes up the team that is Kiki’s?
I’m strictly front of the house. We have a great team that includes a lady from Greece who does all of the traditional dishes. My partners and I put together the menu. It’s all food that we grew up with; simple, homey Greek food. Tavernastyle. No frills.  

Paul is my main partner. He’s one of the partners of Forgetmenot, our sister spot next door, and he’s like poppa bear whereas I’m the baby bear. We used to work together at Souvlaki GR. He built out Kiki’s; I just want to say that. And, here with me day-to-day, there’s Stavros who just arrived from Greece seven months ago. We’re all like a family here. 

What is your favorite dish on the menu?
Moussaka is my favorite. It’s one of my ultimate favorite things ever. We also have Pastitsio. It’s the cousin ofMoussaka. In my opinion, they’re like flavors of ice cream and both very delicious but one is like chocolate and the other is like vanilla. I do love the zucchini chips and the saganaki. 

How do you want your customers to feel when they’re eating with you?
Relaxed. I want them to feel cozy. We never push anyone out. I love that people want to chill and sit and just drink after their meal. I want everyone to feel comfortable. It’s great that they are having a good time and aren’t in a rush to get out.

The space is definitely cozy despite its size. What’s your favorite thing about the space?
I love that it’s deceivingly large. The overall feeling is casual and intimate but there are three separate rooms, each with a different vibe. The front room is a new addition. I call it the Veranda. In Greece, everyone has a patio or front porch area and, in the summer, this room feels very much like that with all of the windows open. The middle room is rustic, which reminds me of where my family is from in the Northern Part of Greece. The back is great for big groups or parties because it’s full of high-top tables and there’s lots of space to walk around. Each room is connected through what feels like secret passageways and customers are always surprised when I take them from one area to another. 

You were speaking very strongly about the neighborhood -- we love the idea of getting to know your neighbors and the sense of community that comes with that—and we’re often checking out what’s going on around our stores, too. What do you like to do nearby when you’re not at the restaurant? 
Well, I live in the area. I do like to hang out here when I’m not working but I often crave Asian food, usually Chinese or Thai, so I love Mission Chinese and Uncle Boons. I also eat at Bacaro a lot. I have my regular dishes that I love over there and they have a great cozy vibe. I love Barrio Chino and Katja. I get take-out from Dudley’s and An Choi sometimes. Dimes is very conveniently on my way to work in the morning so I often pop over there. Those are the places I go to the most.

Do you have a favorite place to eat when you visit Greece?
I love eating by the sea, near my father’s hometown, where they have the most amazing fresh seafood. There’s also a place in the mountains where you get piles of delicious souvalakia. I love eating out at those places but nothing beats eating at home. My Auntie is the best cook and she has this great garden and just cuts the vegetables fresh, right over the bowl. A real Greek salad. 

Kiki and her pup, Ginsberg