A 'Wizard' in the Kitchen
Find out why the chef at Basil's Legends in East Windsor is considered a magician with lamb chops.
Basil's Legends, a Lamb Chop House and Mediterranean Open Grille, is located in East Windsor on Route 33, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the location is so secluded that it's also home to a Days Inn that sits right above the restaurant's ceilings. But although the surroundings seem bare, you'll find a cozy crowd of locals socializing inside this hidden joint.
In other words, business is doing well, and it's no wonder. Head Chef Basil Karakatsanis was named “The Wizard of Lamb Chops” by the Star Ledger and has been given several flattering titles since he opened the restaurant in March 1995.
Karakatsanis tells everyone that his career began with the inspiration of his mother's cooking. Originally from Piraeus, a city in Greece known for its taverns and authentic cuisine, Karakatsanis's childhood was saturated with the unmistakable aroma of Greek food. “I'd walk through the neighborhood, and pick up scents from the different houses. I could always tell what each neighbor was cooking!” he exclaimed.
But Karakatsanis wanted more than Greece. At the age of 14, he started cooking as an apprentice on cruise boats in the Mediterranean. “I wanted to see the world. I wanted to make money and learn at the same time. And that was the best approach,” he said.
By the time he was 18, his passion for cooking had taken him all over the world. He visited Africa, South America, islands of Fiji, Spain and Italy, to name a few, all the while training his hands and mind to create one of the most successful businesses in East Windsor.
And this chef won't lie and tell you that his work is easy. He'll let you know just how hard he is working to keep his customers satisfied. “It's tough. You have to constantly upgrade your eyes, hands, mind and taste,” he explained.
As for your job as customer, the owners require that you are verbal about your experience. “If you have a compliment, tell your friends,” Karakatsanis said. “If you have a complaint, tell Basil.” All staff members of the restaurant are extremely curious about your cravings.
Basil is proud to own the restaurant with his wife, Renee Karakatsanis, who takes care of the front of the house while Basil is in the kitchen. “It works out perfectly,” said the chef. “We've been working together for 30 years, and have been married for that long too. It works, because we're the best of friends.”
In charge of managerial aspects and general hospitality, Renee Karakatsanis also indulges in her husband's food. You can find her and her daughter sitting at the bar before the restaurant opens, trying something custom-made.
The family-owned ambiance is hard to find in most restaurants, and this couple is highly aware of the gem they have. “We're a dying breed,” Renee Karakatsanis said. “With all of the chain restaurants that are eating up the business, a place like this is special.”
The menu is not the only "specialized" part of the restaurant; the owners make a conscious effort to insert bits of Mediterranean culture into the experience. Sultry Greek music fills the restaurant, the servers insist on serving freshly ground espresso with baklava, and the unique decorations are just as homemade as the food. As Basil Karakatsanis put it, “I love my little place.”
When asked how often the couple buys fresh produce, they chuckled and said, “Every day,” in perfect unison. Everything, according to the chef, is made to order. And cleanliness is their number one priority in running the business.
So what keeps Basil's Legends so successful? Magic. Chef Karakatsanis's wizardry in the kitchen turns ordinary menu items into extraordinary meals you've never had before.
Chef Basil Karakatsanis recommends the lobster and shrimp voula golden fried beer battered, topped with fresh strawberries and an apricot horseradish glaze. Of course, he always recommends his famous New Zealand rack of lamb, which may be served either cumin scented with honey red wine sauce or with a garlic, mustard and parmesan crust.