Duck-breast skewers served in the new outdoor patio at Lola...

Duck-breast skewers served in the new outdoor patio at Lola in Great Neck. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

A few Long Island restaurants managed to stay open throughout the pandemic; many more scrambled to reopen within weeks of the initial shutdown of everything but takeout. For Lola in Great Neck, the process of reopening has taken nearly five months.

Two constituencies had to be satisfied before the Mediterranean bistro, a fixture on Newsday’s Top 100, could start cooking again: the customers and the chef.

“As hospitality providers,” said executive chef, Lenny Messina, “we are focused on community service and for our community — our customers — there are varying levels of safety concern. Until we could provide service for every level, we wouldn’t do it. And if all the food we were serving couldn’t meet our culinary standards, we wouldn’t do it.”

When Lola reopened Aug. 14, it was prepared to tackle indoor dining, outdoor dining and takeout. The first was the easiest: Even with half the tables removed, Lola’s dining room still looks inviting.

Outdoor dining fell into place due to another piece of COVID-19 fallout: The restaurant’s neighbor to the north, Great Neck Cinemas, is closed for the time being, and the area directly behind the theater — a gathering point beyond the emergency exits — has been transformed into a romantic patio with regular and high-top tables. Lola hung strings of lights and even got someone to carve tiny niches in the brick wall for tea lights. A canopy is on order for rain protection. The setup is contingent on renewing the permit and on the movie theater’s staying closed.

Takeout was the last hurdle. It wasn’t just finding the right aluminum containers; it was revising the menu so that everything worked in a takeout format. “Some of the things that we took off the menu were things Michael [Ginor, the owner] and I like to cook the most: the octopus, the seared foie gras — things that require finesse. But when I thought about the foie gras sitting on the bar waiting for the customer, sitting in the care on the way home — it just becomes mush.” The “crispy Brussels sprouts with sumac agrodolce” also wound up on death row — “They do not stay crispy,” Messina noted — but they got a last-minute reprieve when customers “threatened to revolt.”

Lola’s new menu comprises six salads and dips, five versions of hummus, three versions of malawach (flaky Middle Eastern pizza) and four main dishes: grilled branzino with soft herbs, pan-seared salmon with smoked labneh, chicken schnitzel with lemon-potato purée and roast chicken with apricot couscous and truffle pan gravy.

It’s not all about subtraction, though. The menu has a whole new menu category: skewers. Ginor is also a partner in two farms upstate, Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Hudson Valley Chicken, and so the restaurant has access to exceedingly high-quality birds. Messina set about developing kebabs that expressed the restaurant’s global approach to Middle Eastern food while also being to stand up to a 30- to 60-minute delay between cooking and serving. First up, skewers of duck breast that have been marinated in chili and garlic. Next, organic chicken (one skewer of white meat, one skewer of dark meat) rubbed with shawarma spices.

A decommissioned starter of lamb kofta (meatballs) has been drafted into skewer service and, finally, cubes or sirloin are grilled and then served with herbal chimichurri. Skewers (two to an order) range from $22 to $25 and come with vegetables and a choice of one side: mujadara (rice with legumes), roasted cauliflower, crispy Brussels sprouts, fruit-nut couscous, lemon potato purée or French fries.

Lola, is at 113a Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-466-5666,

Top Stories