Gird your loins, home cooks; the holidays are almost upon us. Before you know it, roast turkey gives way to fried latkes, gingerbread cookies, baked ham, baccala and hoppin' john. It's the season of kitchen panic.
This year, don’t be afraid to seek help. The Island abounds with food shops brimming with already-made or ready-to-cook delicacies. Here are six local shops that can lighten your cooking load.
Babylon Village Meat Market
Babylon Village Meat Market, Babylon: During the holiday season, Babylon Village Meat Market pulls out the big meat guns. Once the Thanksgiving turkeys fly the coop, owner Lenny Popp starts in on the crown roasts of pork: He trims two racks of bone-in loin chops, bends them into semicircles, then ties them together to form a "crown." The pork crown requires at least 16 chops and serves 10 to 12 people, but for smaller groups he will prepare an 8-to-10-chop "tiara." Popp's Berkshire pork is $13.49 a pound, untrimmed. Lamb crowns (or tiaras) are $24.95 a pound. Other popular catering orders include what Popp calls Swedish ham (boneless, sold with the glaze, $9.49 a pound) and souped-up homemade pigs in blankets, made with bratwurst and knockwurst ($1 apiece). (Pictured: Roast beef platter.)
Hefty pigs in blankets, made with knockwurst, at Babylon Village Meat Market in Babylon.
Reel Kitchen, Kings Park: Ever since he opened the doors of his Kings Park fish market in April 2015, Steve Cardello has had a healthy catering business, cooking for customers who want to entertain with fish. Reel does traditional shucked raw-bar platters (clams are $11.95 a dozen, East Coast oysters are $17.95 to $23.95) and, for an extra charge, will also dispatch a shucker to your home. Reel will poach a whole salmon ($13.99 to $15.99 a pound), prepare a seafood-in-red-sauce cioppino ($95 for a half tray, serves 4 to 6) or will set you up with your very own taco bar, including fried or grilled fish, homemade tortillas and all the fixings (price depends on fish). (Pictured: A seafood platter featuring colossal crab meat, snow crab, Long Island clams and oysters, striped bass ceviche and shrimp cocktail.)
The prepared food case at Reel Kitchen in Kings Park includes fish cakes, octopus salad, baked clams, crabcakes and many other options prepared by Chef and Owner Steve Cardello and his staff.
Forest Pork Store
Forest Pork Store, Huntington Station: "Cold cuts" hardly does justice to the sausages and hams at Forest Pork Store, Long Island's premier German butcher. Everything not imported is either made on the premises or at the store's smokehouse in Ridgewood, Queens. There are kilometers of German bolognas (plain, coarse-ground, or studded with chunks of ham); Gelbwurst, a pale Bavarian veal bologna; Kalbsroladen, veal bologna with little chunks of pork tongue. Glistening headcheese comes in sweet and sour variations. Also try the lush, spreadable pork sausage Teewurst. Per-pound prices range from $7.59 to $12.99, and Forest Pork Store will make a platter of any size. You can even supply your own platter.
Peter Lanwes, co-owner of the Forest Pork Store in Huntington.
Red Maple Market
Red Maple Market, Roslyn: Barely a month old, Red Maple Market takes over the Northern Boulevard location most recently occupied by The Meat House. Co-owners Charlie and Jenn Mastropaolo used to run a company that procured specialty items for restaurant chefs, and they delight in bringing rare delicacies to Roslyn. From Brooklyn comes Ample Hills ice cream, and from Tuscany comes Prosciutto Toscano. The store's chef, Joseph Lester Jr., formerly worked for Daniel Boulud and has taken to heart the maestro's devotion to charcuterie. At Red Maple, Lester makes his own pate de campagne (country pork pate, $24.95) and chicken ballotine (boned, stuffed and baked in a pastry crust, $24.95). Combine some of these cured meats with a selection of the shop's well-curated cheeses (about $10 per person) and you have yourself a party tray. For a large dinner party (up to 20 people) of enthusiastic meat-eaters, Lester will coat a dry-aged rib roast ($24.95) with his special rub and send it home with instructions for roasting. (Pictured: A cheese and charcuterie platter).
A platter of fried chicken at Red Maple Market in Roslyn.
Max’s Appetizing and Kosher Delicatessen
Max's Appetizing and Kosher Delicatessen, Hewlett: At Max's Appetizing, established in 1947, the art of smoked and cured fish is still practiced. Owner Bob Leshansky pickles his own salmon and herring, and it's the rare surgeon who can match his skill at deboning a whitefish. Max's traffics in the very best cured fish: the per-pound prices of Nova Scotia salmon, belly lox, smoked sturgeon, sable and chub start in the high $40s and head northward. But you could also feed a crowd on a budget with a "dairy" meal comprising delicate blintzes ($13 for five), oversized latkes ($2 apiece) or kugel that Leshansky makes with cream cheese, ricotta and farmers cheese ($6.96 a pound). (Pictured: Baked salmon platter).
Proprietor Bob Leshansky holds a platter of two whole whitefish at his store, Max's Appetizing and Kosher Delicatessen in Hewlett.
Tavlin Market, Bellmore: The boreka -- a crisp, flaky turnover made all over the Middle East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe -- is the perfect party food, requiring neither knife nor fork and containing all manner of crowd-pleasing fillings. Since 1990, Tavlin ("spice" in Hebrew) has been turning out dozens of varieties, among them spinach-cheese, mushroom, eggplant, butternut squash-caramelized onion, goat cheese-roasted peppers. Buy them freshly baked for $3.49 apiece or buy a package of 12 frozen borekas for $10.99 and bake them yourself. Complete the party with a selection of Tavlin's salads and dips -- hummus, babaganoush, spicy carrots, spinach puree, chickpea salad and much more, $6.99 to $9.99 a pound.
Borekas (stuffed pastries) in dozens of varieties are a specialty at Tavlin Market in Bellmore.