How’s the brisket? The oxtail stew? In Antonios “Tony” Kolitsopoulos’ kitchen, the customers were always the final judge.
“Doll,” he’d say with a smile, lifting a spoon to a woman’s mouth. “Taste this.”
Thanks in part to the chef’s big personality, his cafe became a friendly haven in a sterile, sometimes hostile place — the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
Under Kolitsopoulos, Laura’s Cafe was a place where opposing lawyers and defendants awaiting their fate could relieve their stress and enjoy a brief time out. There, a home-cooked meal awaited — and sometimes a complimentary piece of baklava.
Kolitsopoulos died last month, but his family vows to carry on his people-friendly traditions, including catering the courthouse Christmas party.
Vannessa Adamidis, who worked with her father, is now in charge of the shopping and the daily menu, with help from her mother.
“I want to make him proud. I know he’s watching me,” said Adamidis, 35, of West Babylon.
Her father grew up in Sparta, Greece, and immigrated to the Bronx when he was 15. He immediately went into his family’s restaurant business, the family said.
Kolitsopoulos, his wife, Laura, and other family members found a culinary niche, running cafes in government buildings in New York, including the Social Security Administration office in Jamaica, Queens.
For the past two years, he served as chef, manager and co-owner of the Central Islip cafe in the courthouse lobby.
“For him, life was good food, [a] full belly and happiness,” Adamidis said.
On Jan. 5, two weeks shy of his 59th birthday, he died of natural causes in his sleep at his West Babylon home, the family said.
A few weeks ago, family members and customers celebrated his life at the cafe. His wife invited everyone to have “a cup of coffee and a bite of something sweet” in his honor.
“My husband was my teacher. Everything I learned, I learned from him,” said Laura Kolitsopoulos, 57.
Last week in Central Islip, customers fondly recalled Tony and their favorite dishes.
His brisket was “lean, cooked perfectly. Better than mine,” said Patricia Ryan, a court employee.
For William Colon, an officer with the federal Department of Homeland Security, it was the stuffed peppers. “Even though I ate them everywhere else, he made them special,” he said.
The two fathers usually made time to talk about their children. “He was family to us,” Colon said.
Robin Daal, a court security officer, called Kolitsopoulos a “gentleman,” who always asked how she was doing.
She loved his oxtail stew and his macaroni and cheese, to name a few. “It was like having dinner for lunch with all the fixings,” she said.
Dominick Tursi, a court reporter, said Kolitsopoulos catered two events at a court reporting museum Tursi created in the courthouse lobby, and the price was an afterthought.
“Everything was about the people,” Tursi said. “Everything was how can I make them happy.”
Adamidis swears she still hears her father’s voice telling her what to buy. She spent a week searching for the right bread for a panini sandwich for a menu special — the kind her father used to buy.
When she finally found it, she called her mother to credit divine intervention.
“He brought me the bread,” Adamidis said of her father.