Tag Archives: Greek restaurants

It’s all Greek to me


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

The Giannakas brothers are the powerhouse duo who have been running one of the most innovative and original Greek restaurants in Astoria for the better part of the past decade. The two men work alongside their mother and father, and the harmony is borderline tangible. Chris runs the front of the house with effortless charisma and charm, while Chef Pete orchestrates delectable and creative spins on traditional Greek dishes. They certainly have lemon potatoes, skewered meats and plenty of fresh seafood — even a raw bar.

Or try their Rock n’ Ribs Wednesdays, featuring a barbecue smorgasbord. But the real magic is found hidden throughout the Greek menu in the recipes often masked with the most deceptively simple names.

“I was inspired a lot by our childhood home,” Pete explains. It was his mother’s cupboard that suggested the marriage of java and skirt steak on the Greek Coffee Steak. The beef is dusted with Greek coffee, and served with a skillet of fresh mushrooms and halloumi poutine. It is a little Hawaiian, a little Canadian, a little Greek and 100 percent Ovelia.

At brunch, guests may order a frittata loaded with French fries and feta cheese. Named after the Giannakas brothers’ grandmother, it is lovingly called Yiayia’s Omelette. A family recipe for Tiropita toast arrives with an array of toppings, from halloumi and cucumbers to fiesta grilled chicken, jalapeño and cilantro-lime aioli. An open-faced ham chip-drip steals the show, with thinly shaved slices of ham sautéed with creamy mozzarella and mushrooms, cloaked in a bright, citrusy hollandaise.

At lunchtime, an old favorite — the Lamburgini Burger — has been replaced with a Saganaki Burger.

“Everyone started doing pretzel rolls,” laughs Chef Pete, “and so I knew it was time to do something different.” The new burger features a juicy patty of chopped veal, crisp ribbons of cucumber, fried kefalograviera and a creamy slathering of Greek yogurt tahini spread, all stacked on a bun of Turkish pide bread.

Dinner should begin with an order of fried feta cubes that have been encrusted in black and white sesame seeds and drizzled with Greek honey. Another Ovelia signature is the Parea — a Greek word referring to a group of friends. What better comrades than a carving board loaded with pork souvlaki, chicken breast, monastiraki bifteki, grilled links of loukaniko, steaming pita triangles and french fries sprinkled with oregano.

The pan-fried, hickory-smoked sweetbreads are decadent and tender, and the bone marrow is slowly roasted after it has been brined in lemon and oregano, rendering it subtly but distinctly Greek.

The complete range of dishes runs the gamut from old-school Mediterranean to trendy and current fare, employing sophisticated techniques.

Regardless of what comes from the kitchen, the brothers always offer a broad range of carefully edited international wines and liquors, featuring an impressive selection direct from Greece.

Each page of Ovelia’s menu holds several curious, delicious little secrets. The best thing you could possibly say is, “It’s all Greek to me.”

Ovelia Psistaria & Bar
34-01 30th Ave., Astoria
718-721-7217

 

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A new kind of Greek


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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The new fortress known as MP Taverna sits on the corner of Ditmars and 32nd Street, eager patrons spilling out of the bar and onto the sidewalk even though the restaurant opened just a few weeks ago. The second floor is a little more hushed, with handsome industrial design and brushed brass lamp shades dangling over each table. MP Taverna can seat 150 patrons, not counting an outdoor dining area along the sidewalk.

At the helm of this new culinary castle is distinguished chef, producer, James Beard Award nominee and author Michael Psilakis.

“We hope that people just look at us like a Greek brasserie,” he said. “The whole focus of this restaurant really is to sort of demystify what Greek food is to people who don’t understand it. We’re trying to take things that are very recognizable and just call them something that you can recognize as well.”

Take, for instance, the meatballs, or, as they are listed on the menu, keftedes. They arrive in an iron skillet bubbling with a tangy tomato sauce and glistening with olives in shades of purple and green. The tender meat is fragrant with dill, mint and lots and lots of garlic.

The exquisitely tender octopus comes nestled on a mound of chickpeas. Enormous, grilled, head-on prawns are served under a creamy bed of Greek spinach and lemon rice pilaf.

A refreshing spin on bulgur salad is studded with crunchy pistachios, tender dates and juicy pomegranate seeds that explode between your teeth. Your fork involuntarily keeps going back for more.

The menu is full of excellent surprises like Cypriot lamb sausage sizzling in a skillet and scallops glistening with brown butter and dried cherries.

So what inspired this inventive take on classic Greek flavors?

“We aren’t just Greek,” Psilakis explained. “We’re Greek-Americans. The biggest difference for me, really, is that being born here and being able to perceive the food that I grew up eating through our new country’s eyes allows us to take liberties with things that a traditional Greek wouldn’t.”

The paella was inspired by youvetsi, a very traditional dish made with lamb and orzo in a clay pot. Psilakis took the idea of a youvetsi and playfully juxtaposed it with the idea of paella. Lamb sausage and orzo replace chorizo and rice.

“It’s not a dish my mother would even understand,” the chef chuckled. “It doesn’t belong in the Greek lexicon of food, and yet when you eat it, it reminds you of Greek food.”

“To a certain degree, Astoria allows you to cook food that can only be recognized in certain venues,” he continued. “Astoria is one of those venues. There is enough of Greece here that if you are cooking [with Greek flavors], there’s going to be people who are going to be coming who are going to understand the beauty of that thing that brings them back to childhood or to a village. That, to me, is exciting. That, to me, is soulful.”

MP TAVERNA
31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
718-777-2187

-BY BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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