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Jockey transformed Whitestone joint into an upscale eatery

Eddie Cruz raced horses every day at Belmont Park for two decades.

But after he suffered several injuries at the reins, he decided to pour that energy into the restaurant business, and two years ago he narrowed his focus to bringing the best “primarily Greek food with a splash of Italian” he can muster to the people of Whitestone.

The Carle Place, L.I., jockey joined with his wife Emma and Chris Perrotta, a Syosett, L.I., friend and fellow chef, and the trio bought the Mediterranean Grill, a quick-eats joint that had served cheap gyros to the Francis Lewis Boulevard lunch crowd for five months before selling the spot to Eddie.

They have since transformed the space, at 160-24 Willets Point Blvd., into a much more upscale eatery — keeping the name but little else from the previous owner.

“He was just making fast food and takeout, and me and Eddie both come from fine dining backgrounds, so basically our mission here was to provide the local community with fine dining-quality food but in a casual atmosphere with extremely low prices,” Perrotta said.

The restaurant took off running once the eatery reopened almost two years back, and the trio have poured their heart and soul into a constantly evolving menu of specials they said their many repeat customers order almost exclusively.

Perrotta said the Whitestone neighborhood has welcomed them with open arms and that he likes serving the local community with his co-workers.

“What we love about this neighborhood is we’re the same type of people, we all work and have blue-collar backgrounds, and everybody loves the food,” he said. “The basic thing between the three of us and the whole crew that’s back there is we’re dedicated to making this place work. It really is like a family. We spend more time with our restaurant family than our real families.”

And Eddie, who owned Il Saporeo, an Italian restaurant in Roslyn, L.I., for more than a decade, still makes time to hit the track before work every morning, training fillies and colts and readying them to run the racecourse. A man of slight build, Eddie has traveled all over the world to race and train horses. Just a couple of years ago he visited Dubai to train horses.

“I’ve always been involved with the horses. I still get on the horses, I still work them out seven days a week,” he said. “It’s exercise training to keep them in shape for their races later in the day. I have a passion for it.”

Emma, who handles the customer service aspects of the restaurant, said it took a little while to explain to people that there is a new Mediterranean Grill in town, but now that the word is out they have been doing good business.

“It’s really dedicated to everyone. You can bring your kids here, or your family, or you can come here on a first date,” she said. “At first people thought we were just gyros and souvlakis, but it’s not, it’s everything from osso bucco to a whole red snapper.”

For more information about the Mediterranean Grill, call 718-281-4210 or stop by between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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