Tag Archives: Greek

Astoria street to be co-named after late community leader

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The dedication and hard work of one Astoria community leader, who passed away earlier this year, will live on in the neighborhood he helped flourish.

The City Council unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would co-name streets throughout the city, including 30th Avenue between 30th and 29th streets, which will be named in honor of Dennis Syntilas, who died on Jan. 7.

Syntilas, 85, was a civic leader and community organizer in Astoria who helped bring the culture of Greece to Queens. He was the founder of the community-based organization Greek-American Homeowners Association, which helps connect Greek-Americans with government resources and promotes civic engagement.

“I am proud to honor Dennis Syntilas and his family with this street co-naming. His contributions to his community have been longstanding. Syntilas worked to improve Astoria by promoting Hellenic and Democratic values through his founding of Athens Square and the Greek-American Homeowners Association,” said Councilman Costa Constantinides, who co-sponsored the co-naming bill. “He is a great example of civic engagement and responsibility throughout our community. This recognition will forever commemorate his tireless work and contributions to our city.”

Syntilas was also one of the forces behind the creation of Athens Square Park on 30th Avenue, where the street will be co-named Dennis Syntilas Way. The park serves as a public space functioning as both a cultural center and recreational site with a playground, amphitheater and numerous sculptures of ancient Greek figures.

“If Dennis was with us today, he would be proud to see how well his dream has come to life. It is an honor to continue his legacy through the addition of Dennis Syntilas Way,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “He made so many sacrifices not just for this park but for our entire community and all the immigrants who made their way here over the decades.”


Astoria featured in city tourism campaign

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Screenshot via NYC & Company

For people near and far, Astoria is the next go-to destination, according to a new neighborhood tourism campaign.

Astoria has been selected by NYC & Company, the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for New York City, as the next spotlight area in its Neighborhood x Neighborhood campaign.

“From the remarkable Greek and international cuisine, to the fascinating cultural and arts scene, we are pleased to be promoting all there is to see and do in Astoria,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company. “We invite visitors from around the world and across the United States to discover and rediscover Astoria.”

Starting Tuesday, Astoria is being highlighted as the third feature in a three-part Neighborhood x Neighborhood documentary series. The videos in the series feature a local’s guide to the neighborhood, focusing on shops, restaurants, attractions and the history that makes the area distinct. They also include reasons for both tourists and locals to explore.

“It’s no surprise that the borough of nations is home to Astoria, a culturally diverse community known as both a creative neighborhood full of praiseworthy cultural institutions and a food destination popular for everything from Greek to Italian to Brazilian cuisine,” said Marty Markowitz, vice president of borough promotion and engagement at NYC & Company. “There is something for everyone in this bustling Queens neighborhood, and we encourage New Yorkers and visitors to spend a day in Astoria.”

This announcement comes just a few weeks after NYC & Company launched a three-month promotional campaign called “See Your City” showcasing 10 neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, including Jackson Heights and Long Island City.

The “must-see Astoria” highlights featured in the Neighborhood x Neighborhood campaign include the Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria Park with its views of Midtown Manhattan, the neighborhood’s prominent Greek culture, restaurant and social scene, and boutique designers. 

The Neighborhood x Neighborhood campaign, first launched in 2013, targets outside visitors and New Yorkers and was designed to highlight the diversity of the city’s five boroughs and encourage people to explore outside “traditional tourist locations.”

For more information, visit nycgo.com/nxn.


It’s all Greek to me

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by 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





Sofra opens in Sunnyside

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks


Sofra is the newest arrival on the scene in terms of restaurants that are serving a broad variety of authentic Mediterranean cuisine. And while the term “Mediterranean” may be used as a wider label for what this restaurant is about, deep at its heart, the restaurant is beautifully Turkish. This can be seen in the lahmacuns that are stuffed like little pastry boats filled with tender ground lamb crumbles, or the numerous varieties of grilled meats, served as meatballs on skewers, cubed, or available on fresh pita.

Any of the starters can easily combine to make a meal. Grape leaves are rolled carefully around a Greek salad that smells of a sweet perfume. Phyllo is rolled lengthwise around feta, parsley and tomato to create little cigars of bourek. Baba ganush sings of tahini and tender roasted eggplant and spicy peppers are carefully diced into a dip known as ezme. And the hummus — smooth as the purple velvet stripes lining the dining room chairs.

Seafood is satisfying as well. Shrimp arrives stewed in a tomato sauce with hearty chunks of freshly cubed vegetables. Trout is served with a wonderful lemon caper sauce, and salmon is served in a creamy blend of olives, mushrooms and tomatoes. These are some of the best Turkish recipes being served in New York City.

The Turks are a passionate people, and the owners here are no exception. Guests sit and sip coffee or tea long after their bronzini is carted away.

Owners Kaan Oralis and Yuvuz Gülü have been friends for more than 20 years, bringing together experience in restaurants and hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Plaza Hotel and Waldorf Astoria, where Oralis is still a banquet server a couple of nights a week. So it came as no surprise that the two decided to take a stab at running their own restaurant. And man, did it payoff.

For a grand finale, nibble on homemade honey-soaked desserts and baked puddings with tea and a strong demitasse of Turkish coffee. When you finish, don’t be startled when you are expecting a check and the waitress asks if you have a moment before proceeding to turn over the coffee mug allowing the grinds to drip slowly onto the saucer. And don’t be surprised if she then reads your fortune in the shapes and patterns of those coffee grinds.

Eventually the two owners plan on serving tapas with abundant outdoor seating.  But, for now, the flatbreads, grilled meats and baklava are far more than enough.

Sofra Mediterranean
43-02 43rd Ave., Sunnyside



Good Greek grub at Aegea

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Victor G. Mimoni

Aegea, located at the “Douglaston Corner” serves up a surprisingly good array of apps, wraps, pasta, pizza, salads, Greek specialties and some of the best burgers in town.

Owner Mike Sackos commands the counter, moving at light-speed to ensure that, even when the place is packed (which is often), the dishes are not only delicious, but also well-presented and a treat to the eye as well as the palate.

Sackos’ forebears hail from the isle of Chios, just off the coast of Turkey – hence his motto, “where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean.” This may also explain the tasty falafel and Turkish gyro listed alongside the fantastic baby lamb chops, moussaka and other Greek specialties.

Aegea features a wide selection of salads for the health conscious, including seasonal selections. The winter salad is red and green for the season – tender spinach leaves, cucumber, red onion, beets, chick peas and crumbled feta, with a creamy vinaigrette dressing.

Other salad selections include Acropolis (with walnuts and goat cheese),  Aegea (with stuffed grape leaves, feta and grilled chicken),  Douglaston (with shredded mozzarella, fried chicken strips and honey mustard dressing) and of course, Greek salads, all well-dressed and beautifully presented.

Having started in the restaurant business at the tender age of 16 and formerly the owner of  Pete’s Pizza on Bell Boulevard, Sackos’ pie bona fides are impeccable, as are his Sicilian round pies, offered with a good selection of toppings. Those too hungry for a just a slice can also opt for the nine-inch “Pita Pizza,” in plain cheese, Greek (lots of olives and feta), Buffalo or pesto chicken varieties.

Pasta lovers can choose from several varieties of spaghetti, baked ziti, penne (whole wheat penne also available) or stuffed shells. The red sauce is piquant and fresh and dishes with red or white clam sauce, or oil and garlic also satisfy.

More than a dozen wraps will satisfy any taste, from vegetarian to tuna, turkey or Angus burger, plus the expected Mediterranean flavors, including shrimp with spinach, souvlaki or gyro filled. For those with no Hellenic inspiration, there’s even a Philly cheesesteak wrap.

Speaking of burgers, the variety of seven-ounce Angus burgers for less than $7 (deluxe for a few dollars more) is an outstanding value. The Aegea burger features American cheese with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms is juicy and delicious. Soups and sides are also first rate.

If you have room for dessert, the Greek pastry offerings are large, authentic and wonderful.

Mike added a mirror-image double-G to the logo, “Because ‘Aegea’ is a palindrome,” a word that spells correctly forward or backward. Any way you look at it, it’s a place for good food at a great price. Yiasou!

Aegea Gyros and Pizza
242-05 Northern Blvd., Douglaston
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. every day
Closed Christmas, Thanksgiving Day
Cards accepted for dine in, take out
Free local delivery, cash orders only
Extended delivery for catering orders
Limited on street parking
Q-12 bus, LIRR Douglaston station






Cavo: A little bit of something for everyone

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is a juicy hamburger stuffed with decadent, velvety foie gras—like a gigantic beef ravioli nestled on fluffy brioche.  It sits on a bed of crumbled feta and is topped with a ribbon of kefteri cheese and pickled onions.  It is the filet mignon of burgers, and it is just the tip of the iceberg at CavoAstoria’s premiere restaurant, complete with garden, lounge and club.

For years, Cavo has been serving elevated Mediterranean cuisine in one of the most sophisticated dining rooms this side of the Hudson—and the current menu is certainly no exception.  A front bar splits off to additional seating areas on the side, before opening up to a vaulted dining room with giant cloth-covered chandeliers.  Beyond that, steps descend into a sunken garden with waterfalls and foliage cascading down two-story walls.

Cavo showcases a lovely blend of favorite dishes primarily from Greece and Italy intermixed with accents from all over the world—under the direction and expertise of Omari Dacosta, most recently of Danny Meyer’s barbecue hot spot, Blue Smoke.  Dacosta has also worked in the kitchens of Trestle on Tenth, Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, and Red Rooster in Harlem.

At Cavo, the Greek influences are certainly the most pronounced.  Ravioli is stuffed with Greek cheese and arrives under a blanket of creamy feta with white truffle essence. Exceptionally tender octopus is charcoal grilled with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, presented simply, yet still an outstanding dish.  Jumbo lump crabmeat is forked into hearty cakes, and stacked with fennel shavings and celery root puree.

A watermelon salad sings with tomato and feta, and jumbo shrimp arrive wrapped in phyllo dough.  Entrees range from plates of pasta loaded with fresh seafood, to an artichoke feta risotto, Chilean sea bass, and even a filet mignon with lemon potato gratin.

Desserts are equally sublime.  A granita of strawberries sits on a Greek yogurt panna cotta, dressed with shavings of lime zest. Nutella crepes are stuffed with walnut banana compote.

Cocktails range from Cavo’s famous sangria, to a cucumber basil Collins or lychee martini.  Sweeter spirits range from a chocolate martini to a sparkling raspberry watermelon diva martini.

From start to finish, dining at Cavo will leave you wanting to return.  Perfect for an intimate weekday dinner or a weekend evening of dancing, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

42-18 31st Avenue, Astoria
Closed Mondays
Open daily at 5 p.m.




Pols rally against extremist Greek group, Golden Dawn

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


An extremist Greek political party’s plans to open a branch in Astoria have met opposition from local politicians.

Golden Dawn, a right-wing, nationalistic group that garnered 18 seats in the Greek parliament during the last election, announced its desire to set up a New York City office on the group’s website. While Golden Dawn’s website has since been shut down, locals have reported seeing literature produced by the party.

The group, whose main platform is anti-immigration, has been known to terrorize Greek markets, searching for people residing without proper documentation.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas rallied at a press conference on Friday, October 5 to protest the installation of a branch of Golden Dawn in the middle of the melting pot neighborhood.

“[Golden Dawn is] not welcome in this community, this city, or this country,” said de Blasio. “[Golden Dawn’s] hatred and bigotry will fall on deaf ears in Queens, the most diverse county in America, where people of every race, creed and nationality live side by side in harmony.”

De Blasio is among many who decry the group’s neo-Nazi affiliation. Its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, has been a long-standing denier of the Holocaust.

Simotas, who emigrated from Greece to the United States with her parents as an infant, was angered that Golden Dawn felt the community that had welcomed her family with open arms was a suitable location for such an organization.

“I’m very angry,” she said. “The reason I’m angry is because they do not reflect the sentiment in this community. Astoria is a community that was built by immigrants: This is a country and a community of opportunity. The fact that a group like this thinks Astoria is an appropriate venue to display intolerance and hate is wrong.”

Chris Vournas, first vice president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies, said representatives from Golden Dawn visited his non-profit group’s 29th Street office several weeks ago, requesting clothing to send to Greece. Vournas said many charitable organizations have dedicated efforts to assisting Greece since the beginning of the country’s recent economic downturn. However, the spokespeople lied about their intentions and did not disclose that they were members of Golden Dawn, Vournas said.

“We never invited them, we never accepted them because our organization is not political,” said Vournas. “Our organization has nothing to do with politics. We don’t accept [Golden Dawn] in the Federation, we don’t help them and we don’t recognize them.”

Vournas said the representatives photographed the outside of the Federation’s office and posted the picture on their website, stating that the office belonged to Golden Dawn. Vournas believes the extremist group has no place in such a culturally diverse neighborhood.

“How can we be anti-immigrants?” said Vournas. “We couldn’t be here!”

A reporter was unable to get in touch with members of Golden Dawn.