In a neighborhood whose culinary scene is dominated by take-out joints and delis, Kensington is hungry for a quality sit-down restaurant—and Moondos Grill is hoping to fill the void.
Owned by Yessenia and Jose Ortega, the new spot, which occupies the space that formerly housed Connie’s Café, offers a menu that in many ways reflects Kensington itself.
“It’s just like the neighborhood: diverse,” said Yessenia, who typically goes by Jessie. “It has American cuisine, it has Spanish cuisine. I think you’ll find something for everyone here. “
The Ortegas acquired the space, located at 424 Church Ave., shortly after Connie’s closed in April at the hand of the health department.
Ortega, who has lived in Kensington for 37 of her 38 years, said her husband has always had his eye on this particular storefront, drawn to its large windows and central Church Avenue location.
With the ghostly specter of El Gavilan sitting just across the street, it might be easy for the Ortegas to worry about their chances of survival on Church Avenue, where business are known to abruptly shutter as a result of high rents and fickle landlords. Luckily, this is not the Ortega’s first rodeo.
A 13-year veteran of Wall Street, Ortega recently eschewed the 9 to 5 lifestyle in favor of helping her husband manage their local businesses, the tally of which recently raised to three: Flatbush Latin Grill, a takeout spot they’ve owned for two years, and their two latest ventures, Fiesta Meats on Church Avenue and Moondos.
Still, Ortega acknowledges that there’s much work to be done. Having opened Fiesta Meats and Moondos nearly simultaneously, there weren’t a lot of spare funds to thoroughly renovate the new restaurant’s interior.
In fact, Connie’s regulars will find themselves pulling up the same chairs to the same Formica tables that they once did at the diner, and they will find their senses assaulted by the same overbearing fluorescent lights. Aside from freshly painted orange walls and a smattering of Spanish bric-a-brac, stepping into Moondos is a lot like stepping into Connie's.
“We will get new chairs and booths, but our budget didn’t permit it at the moment,” Ortega said, adding that she eventually hopes to install a full bar and outdoor seating.
While the atmosphere may be more of the same, the menu at Moondos is certainly its own.
Ortega describes the fare as a mix of Dominican and Tex-Mex, with dishes ranging from tortilla soup, ($5), featuring strips of crunchy tortilla and a hearty portion of cheese-covered shredded chicken, to pepper steak ($6.75), served on a stylish square plate with artfully molded Spanish rice and a saucer of black beans.
Other dishes include the cheeseburger ($4.50), Latin style buffalo wings (8 for $8) and several types of burritos (around $7). Breakfast dishes, which tread the usual territory of egg platters and pancakes, hover around $5.
The blend of Dominican and American, Ortega said, is representative of the backgrounds of her and her husband. Hence the restaurant's name, a bilingual portmanteau of the words "dos" (Spanish for "two") and "moon." The word "mundo" means "world."
"We're like two different worlds—two moons—colliding," she said.