When dual cravings strike—hunger and a hankering for hookah—one doesn't need to settle for satisfying just one. Pergola, a new Greek restaurant/hookah lounge hybrid, is a mecca for both, custom-built for savoring traditional plates and puffing flavored plumes of smoke. Just be sure to bring your party shoes.
The space is bold and unconventional—formerly a multi-level flower shop, there's an airy and expansive air to the layout that's unusual for area restaurants. The building's past gets a subtle nod in the design, with ivies and assorted tentacled flora dangling from wall-mounted planters like you're in a converted space.
Cavernous and dark, Pergola shares many similarities with a Downtown nightspot. Loud, bass-heavy music fills the first floor and mezzanine above, second in impact only to the strong and seductive odor of shisha slow-burning under hot coals. Tables line the walls downstairs, with ornate, metallic hookah pipes perched nearby, like smoky sentinels. Puffers choose from a menu of poisons (shisha bowls are $20 a pop), in concoctions both classic (vanilla, orange) and creative (cocktail, blue mist). In attitude, the place has the feel of a loungey club—patrons walk the dining rooms freely, conversing and making runs to the bar. Groups even stand to dance, puffing merrily all the while, or make smiling introductions at nearby tables. A common cause unites all: smoke, drink, eat and socialize. Don't mind if I do.
Even if one took away the party-party atmosphere and showy hookah element, the food is strong enough to stand on its own. Greek-Mediterranean flavor, all the way. A smartly plated mezze platter satisfies curious palettes, surveying the classic pureed delicacies of the region: traditional hummus, kalamata tapanade and babaganoush (a tantalizing spread of creamy beige, smooth orange and pulp-y purple condiments). You'll be dipping until the fried pita runs out. Comforting and well-prepared, the appetizer is everything you crave from the beginning of a big, fat Greek meal. Crisp, breaded crab cakes are agreeable and large while the phyllo cigars (a mound of slender, flaky rolls filled with ground lamb, free-range chicken, golden raisin, sautéed squash, zucchini, carrot) have to power to bring diners to their knees. True to Greek tradition, entrées are generously portioned. A rich, creamy Macaroni béchamel (penne, lamb ragu, mozzarella, parsley, Parmesan) had the look and structure of a decadent lasagna while the shawarma plate (a heap of shaved slow-roasted lamb dressed with tahini, parsley and lightly-dressed organic greens) was tender and roughly textured with a gamey, citrus-y spark.
Too stuffed to even consider a dessert course, I reached for the hookah pipe instead. It took only seconds for any and all worries to dissipate like a puff of smoke.
>>Pergola, 36 W. 28th St., btw Broadway & Sixth Ave., 212.679.4842