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Prospect Heights' Posh Eateries Miss the Grade on Health Inspections

By Sonja Sharp | August 21, 2012 10:53am

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — For Khaled Basioni, B is for bad luck. 

That's what the owner of Pasha Pizza and Pita Grill on Classon Avenue said earned him a B on his most recent inspection by the New York City Department of Health. For better or worse, he's got plenty of company in Prospect Heights.

Nearly two dozen local restaurants — many of them abuzz with glowing reviews from Yelp — earned B's and even C's on their city-issued report cards. Violations run the gamut from unclean work stations and foods left at unsafe temperatures to vermin like mice and roaches roaming free among the foodies.

The ratings come as a surprise in a neighborhood thought to be gaining on Park Slope's restaurant scene after years of gastronomic reinvention. 

Popular kitchens like the recently opened 606 R&D on Vanderbilt Avenue and longtime local favorites like Cafe Shane on Washington Avenue were among those dinged by the department for unsafe or unsanitary conditions. 

The French-American bistro Ortine on Washington Avenue had flies. Zaytoons, a Vanderbilt Avenue institution serving Mediterranean fare, had mice, while Maya Taqueria up the block lost points for food that was left out too long. Plan B, a sports bar on Vanderbilt Avenue, got a C after it was found to host live roaches at its Rangers games. 

And yet, a discerning eater could walk into many of the same restaurants without ever knowing there was anything amiss. On a recent visit, Maya Taqueria, Zaytoons and Plan B were all still hanging "Grade Pending" placards in their windows, despite having received grades as long ago as February. 

Those three, along with Cafe Shane and Joyce's Bakeshop, which also earned a B, did not return calls and emails seeking comment. R&D owner Sara Dima declined to comment on her bistro's B. 

But Basioni was eager to share his outrage. He said a stroke of bad luck lost him his good grade, after a health inspector visited while he was abroad dealing with a family emergency. The food protection certificate he still had in his pocket would have spared Pasha's 10 points — without those, he would still have an A. 

"All my friends have the same business, and they complain about it," Basioni said. "I'm a new business. Last year I paid $3,000, and this year I still owe $3,000. It's insane."

Basioni said the grading system was stacked against small businesses like his that are already struggling with the sluggish economy, on top of the fines for each violation and the stigma of wearing the green letter B.   

"A customer, once he's seen a B or a C on the window, he thinks it means the food is bad, that it's poison," Basioni said. "This paper I had in my pocket was a $500 ticket, but that's life."