It is distinctly possible for a Salvadoran man to fall in love with a Macedonian woman. The hard part comes in deciding what to name the children. Before their daughter was born last year, "It was a nine-month battle," said Anita Alampioska with a laugh. "I had all these names and he was like, ‘no way, I don’t know how to pronounce them!’" And that wasn’t the only problem. At one point, Alampioska suggested they call the child Bisera. "For us it is a pearl, for them it is the intestines of a chicken! We had endless fights."
What they did not fight about was Melvin Recinos’ cooking, if only because that’s what had brought the couple together in the first place. "She was coming in a lot," recalled Recinos of his future wife’s visits a few years back at Lucia, the Mattituck pan-Latin eatery he has owned and operated with his mother Estella Palacios since 2016.
"I was there all the time," confirmed Alampioska. "One night tacos, one night empanadas. Where I’m from, we don’t have stuff like that." She soon developed an equal affection for Recinos himself. "I thought, if this guy can cook like that, he can pretty much do all things."
He can pretty much cook all things too, or at least more than empanadas and tacos. Over time, Lucia has earned a fan base, so much so that Recinos opened a second restaurant in July, Lucia Middle Island. He credits culinary success to his grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named, his mother, a classically trained chef, and the legendary Gerry Hayden, under whom Recinos worked at North Fork Table & Inn in Southold. "He was a great mentor for me," he said. "He taught me everything, opened my mind."
Lucia Middle Island, twice the size of its predecessor, took over what used to be The CookRoom, a diner turned pandemic casualty and "Extreme Makeover" candidate. Recinos and his team rethought the space, brightly overhauling it with basketball orange banquettes, an equally bright lemon yellow exterior, and a whimsical tiki bar patio area, muraled and landscaped, that awaits only a liquor license to take flight.
Such efforts have served as smelling salts to what might be termed a sleepy stretch of Middle Country Road, but none of it compares to the jolt generated by Lucia’s kitchen. There are no pupusas I’ve had better than Recinos’, which he offers in 12 varieties, including the heavenly revuelta, which is stuffed with buttery pork shoulder — marinated and roasted to exquisite perfection — mixed with rice and beans ($4.50). His most popular dish, meanwhile, the Farmer’s Plate ($19) — a beyond hearty entree of steak, rice and beans, queso fresco and pico — is worth it for the accompanying patty of juicy Salvadoran chorizo alone. I haven’t yet tried the tacos ($12-$15.50 for 3) or empanadas ($8.50-$12 for 2), but really, a woman fell in love with a guy because of them. What more do you need to know?
Oh, right. You need to know what they named their now-15-month-old daughter.
"Alejandra," said Alampioska. "Alexander and Alexandra are the most popular names in Macedonia." Because, you know, Alexander the Great. "Melvin said, ‘I like it, but can’t we do it with a little Latin flavor?’"
Lucia Middle Island is at 25 Middle Country Rd. in Middle Island, 631-846-8833. See the restaurant’s Facebook page or luciamattituck.com for further information. Opening hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.