If you write about food, an unfamiliar name on Yelp will evoke a little thrill, as it did one recent evening in Garden City when the name 'Jeera' appeared. It had fewer than a dozen reviews and was barely a quarter-mile away.
A left here, a right there, and I ended up in the parking lot of Akbar, the longtime Indian restaurant on the outskirts of the Roosevelt Field mall. The signs for Jeera pointed around the back of the building, where after some puzzled wanders back and forth, I found a locked metal door with a tiny logo on front. I knocked, expecting silence.
Instead, the door swung open and a youngish guy in glasses and a cap poked his head out. It turned out to be the chef, Royalle Asuncion, drawing down the evening service. "Can I help you?" he asked politely.
So it was that I first encountered Jeera, one of the newest and most imaginative ghost kitchens on Long Island. Jeera, which means "cumin" in Hindi and is a staple flavor of Indian cuisine, is the creation of Radhika Chopra, the daughter of Akbar owner Meena Chopra. "Through the pandemic, we were thinking of ways to innovate," said Radhika Chopra, who grew up around her family's business (Akbar has been around for decades) and counts uncles, grandparents and other kin in the restaurant business. She wondered, "if you took two generations and put them together, what would it be in a brand? Most of the country has seen Indian food delivered in a traditional form. We wanted to hit against those stereotypes."
So Chopra opened Jeera in early April as a kitchen-within-a-kitchen that plays with Indian-food tropes, such as that most dishes are spicy (none of Jeera's are) or unhealthy. "We wanted to mitigate that notion. All of our ingredients are consciously chosen, and items have been intentionally created and made with healthy ingredients," said Asuncion.
Instead of pakoras and curries, for instance, Jeera'a menu consists of bowls, wraps, and Indian-inspired snacks, many made vegan with ingredients such as roasted cauliflower, pulled jackfruit or Impossible meat — but fillings and toppings also include organic paneer, an Indian soft cheese, and grilled chicken.
Those building blocks, such as Thai basil chicken, rubbed, slow-cooked leg of lamb, smashed paneer or pulled jackfruit, serve as the centerpiece for bowls (starting at $8.99) or whole-wheat wraps with accents like tahini, garlic spinach and gingery carrots, plus sauces such as beet ketchup, mint yogurt or vegan avocado-cilantro-jalepeño aioli. Crispy snack wraps ($3.99 each), stuffed phyllo-dough squares ($4.99) and salads round out the menu, and canned cocktails from Crafthouse Cocktails (think Paloma and spicy margarita) are among the drinks, as are juices and a few beers.
Asuncion, who was a private chef and sous chef at BG Restaurant at Bergdorf Goodman before joining Jeera, said that the menu will continue to evolve to include influences from even more regions and traditions, such as those of Korea and the Mediterranean.
Jeera opens daily at noon at 2 South St. (around the back of Akbar), Garden City, 646-859-3340, jeeraeats.com.