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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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It takes a (Burger) Village


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_2464

SHEILA DIAMOND

There’s a new burger place in town where you can eat healthy.

Normally, you wouldn’t put these two ideas together, but organic is the new healthy and Burger Village in Great Neck does it in style.

We were first tempted to give it a try as the aromas just beckoned us through the front door. The advertised organic meals closed the deal.

Brothers Nick and Vick Yadav were raised in the restaurant business and opening their own restaurant has been their dream. They proudly discuss the menu, featuring 100 percent all natural ingredients – USDA certified organic, cage free, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free meats and non-GMO produce grown locally, with no herbicides or pesticides.

“At Burger Village our products do not come from a factory,” Nick said. “They come from farms and dairies that are mostly family owned and operated. The livestock and produce are nourished and cared for in a natural and humane way.”

You know the brothers are serious in their commitment to quality organic dining when you sit in the comfortable dining area, paneled in recycled wood. Reading the extensive menu is absolute confirmation.

Your choices include turkey, bison, ostrich, elk, wild boar and lamb in addition to beef (patties or on salad) as well as black bean, mushroom and veggie burgers. Chicken for tenders and sandwiches are humanely handled and raised.  Amazingly, with prices from $9-$13, the value is healthy, too. Even the hot dog, grass-fed Kobi beef, is only $7.

Your burger can be nestled in a brioche or multigrain bun, or even lettuce for the carb-averse.  Gluten free buns and whole wheat wraps are also available. The many toppings and sides include:  regular or seasoned fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, goat cheese, shaved aged parmesan, arugula and lots more.

Even the soft drinks are healthier than you would expect and organically sourced. Sodas are caffeine-free, cane juice sweetened, 100 percent all-natural, hand crafted by the Maineroot Company. Then again, you can get some healthy anti-oxidants in a glass of very nice red wine.

If you have room, dessert awaits. Their shakes are made with organic ice cream and include strawberry, raspberry and blueberry, banana and even peanut butter, in addition to the old standbys, vanilla and chocolate.

The flourless chocolate cake is simply amazing and all I can say about their vanilla bean cheese cake is that it’s beyond the beyond.

So if you’ve been craving a juicy, flavorful burger or a really healthy salad—or you just want to go to town on an old-time ice cream float, head to Burger Village.

Burger Village
66 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck
516-321-9177
Open 7 days 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Master, Visa, Amex, Discover cards accepted
Metered on street parking
Muni lot around corner (Gussack Plaza)

 

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A new party at Pachanga Patterson


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Peyton Powell recently took over as executive chef in the kitchen at Astoria’s Pachanga Patterson, the third restaurant of the Mexican trio that also includes Vesta in Astoria and Venturo in Sunnyside. Powell had been the executive sous chef at Casa Mono since 2009 and also worked at DB Bistro Moderne, as well as Daniel.

Powell met the owners of Pachanga by eating at Vesta and seeing them around Astoria, where he has been living for the last four years.

“I loved what they were doing in the neighborhood, and wanted to be a part of it,” explains the chef.

Previously, Pachanga focused on serving “family meals,” incorporating  nontraditional ingredients into classic Mexican recipes.  A family meal, in the restaurant industry, is a staff meal served before a shift.  While tacos stuffed with duck remain, the theme has moved from fusion to classic Mexican.

“What I’m trying to do at Pachanga is not strictly Oaxacan,” says Powell, “even though it’s my favorite region of Mexico, foodwise. I want to incorporate traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients influenced by my background, in a local, seasonal, and comfortable environment.”

The result is some of the most delicious Mexican food in the entire city.  A surprisingly light queso fundido arrives in a shallow clay dish, studded with hen of the woods mushrooms, tiny diced cubes of butternut squash, and pumpkin seeds.  Quacamole is served in the classic style, or can be ordered jazzed up with pomegranate seeds, queso fresco, and chipotle pepper oil, making it sweet and spicy.

Cabernet colored beets are delicately charred on the grill, and served with pickled apples, crushed peanuts, and hibiscus.  Grilled octopus is stewed with cannellini beans and jalapeno oil, giving just the right spark of heat to remarkably tender tentacles.

If you order the fideos con mariscos, do not plan on sharing even a single bite, as these head-on prawns are sweet and tender, swimming with mussels in a pot of broken capellini, stewed with cactus paddles in a habanero aioli.  From the land, never has pork belly been executed to such deliciousness, glazed with tamarind and served with crunchy chicharrones and tangy tangerines.

“Pachanga” can loosely be translated as “street party,” which means there are plenty of unique cocktails to sip.  Drinks range from a Coriander en Fuego to a Cactus Cooler, made from organic prickly pear puree, blended with tequila blanco.

From appetizers to desserts, Pachanga Patterson is hitting it out of the park.  Chef Powell is dishing out some pretty remarkable dishes worthy of at least a visit, if not two… or 20.  If only all Mexican food could taste this fantastic.

Pachanga Patterson
33-17 31st Ave., Astoria
718-554-0525

 

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Panda Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar: More than just great food


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Panda Asian Bistro

Among a plethora of chain restaurants, fast food joints, small eateries and convenience stores, there’s a new player on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park that is looking to change the game.

Panda Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar, which opened roughly six months ago, boasts a fusion of oriental specialties, and owners are considering expanding it as an entertainment venue.

“On Queens Boulevard, there are not many things you could do after night [fall],” co-founder Sam Cheng said. “We are trying to change it into an entertainment place rather than just pure restaurant. That’s the goal.”

The first floor of the restaurant has black and white striped walls and red bamboo sprinkled around near the windows. Every Friday night the eatery features a performer who does magic tricks.
Cheng said since it has been well received by patrons, they are considering expanding the performances.

A 1,200-square-foot, 80-seat party room for private events is located on the second floor of the restaurant. Cheng, who grew up in nearby Elmhurst, also said they are experimenting with turning the second floor into a lounge with live music.

Besides the entertainment value of Panda, the food is worth looking forward to. The eatery boasts a range of Asian specialties, including Chinese, Thai and Japanese food.

Appetizers are a mix of favorites such as gyoza dumplings, crispy duck rolls and Thai herbs calamari with an original spicy duck sauce.

Entrees, such as tender General Tso’s chicken and yaki udon, grace a wide menu, which includes many vegetarian choices as well.

Cheng said the sushi fish is bought from Japanese vendors, and rolled by a Japanese chef. There are plenty to choose from, including Yellowtail, ikura (salmon), ebi (shrimp), and maguro (tuna).

And so customers can fully enjoy the selection, Panda offers all-you-can-eat sushi every day for $19.95 on weekdays and $21.95 on weekends.
On top of the entertainment value and wide selection of dishes, customers should know that meals at Panda are free, if it’s your birthday.

Panda Asian Bistro
95-25 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
718-896-8811
Hours: Sunday –Thursday 11:00 am- 10:30 p.m.
Friday& Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit card: yes
Delivery: yes

 

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Build-a-burger at Burger Bistro


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Last month, the space next door to JJ’s Asian Fusion became a Burger Bistro, the company’s fourth location in the city.  The original is in Bay Ridge, with a sophomore effort in Park Slope, a third on the Upper East Side, and now our own outpost here in Astoria, sharing the same 31st Avenue restaurant corridor as Milkflower, Pachanga Patterson, Il Bambino, Enthaice, Zenon, Point Brazil, Brick Café, and Café Boulis—just to name a few in that 10-block stretch.

While the company achieved  status as the #2 burger in the city from Zagat, this location is also just a couple blocks from the Astoria based giant, Bareburger—which, if lines and wait times mean anything at all, is currently making one of the most popular patties in town.  Both Bareburger and the Burger Bistro feature a “build your own” selection of toppings, offering everything from tuna and kobe beef (at Burger Bistro) to ostrich and bison (at Bareburger).

Because we were anxious to see how this newcomer holds up to the competition, we stopped by after they’d been open a week, just to test things out.  Truth be told, we have already returned more than once.

While the burger is certainly one to drool over, I mostly loved that it could be served on toasted garlic bread–reminding me of my old college burger joint that sold GCB’s (garlic cheese burgers).  Other bread options, however, include potato, wheat, or brioche rolls, as well as sliders or lettuce wraps.

There are several side dishes to choose from, as well, from various tater tots to homemade chips, and fried onions to split pea salad.  The buffalo tots were kinda sorta outrageous. Crispy tater tots lightly tossed in a creamy buffalo sauce, then topped with diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Other side choices include deep-fried corn on the cob, fried artichoke hearts, and a few salad options, including one with Portobello mushrooms, pears and goat cheese.

The ice cream sandwich was probably one of the best I have ever tasted, with two sugar crystal-coated chocolate sugar cookies, sandwiching a cold, firm scoop of fresh peppermint ice cream.  They also have versions with snicker doodles and cinnamon ice cream, or oatmeal raisin with buttercream ice cream.

At lunch, you can order a cheeseburger with one topping and a side order for $10 —and they offer other specials throughout the week.

Funky burger toppings range from buffalo shrimp to pickled jalapeños, onion frizzles, wasabi mayo, and portobello mushrooms… just to name a few.

The selection of toppings, meat, breads, cheese, and sides is extremely generous, yet still fits on one page.  In fact, the menu is a dry erase board where you actually mark your choices before turning it in to the server.  And thank goodness it is dry erase.  Leave yourself plenty of time to play with the choices to create a burger and side combination that is just what you want.  The cooks execute everything perfectly–you just have to tell them what to do!

Burger Bistro
37-03 31st Ave., Astoria
347-808-8454

 

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One door closes and another opens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

When Lounge 47 closed on Vernon Boulevard, I have to admit I was extremely sad.  One of the chefs had been the owner of a bar on the street where I live, which closed last year and became a panini shop, and another contributing chef—Julie Powell—had written a book that became a movie that inspired my own career—as well as the lives of many others I know.  But that is all a part of what happens when you write about restaurants for a while.  A place that held special memories and conversations will disappear in the blink of an eye if you aren’t watching carefully.  And that is how it seemed to me with Lounge 47.  One day I was sipping a coffee with Julie Powell, discussing her career and her friendship with Joss Whedon, and the next time I drove by, a new sign read, Woodbines.

It took me a moment to be able to enter Woodbines without any previous opinion.  I know that the new owners had not personally pushed my friends out the door—it just seemed like I needed to at least grieve for a minute, anyway.  But when I did decide to stop in and see what was going on, I was instantly reminded of something I have always known.  When one door closes, another opens.

Woodbines is an absolutely fantastic addition to the Vernon Boulevard corridor in Long Island City.  Serving pub-style Irish dishes alongside American favorites, they really showcase a few plates of note—with some pretty solid drinks, as well.

The Scotch egg arrives halved, and drizzled with spicy mustard for just $5—the same price as a handful of their snacks, which also include jerk chicken, fried pickles, and miniature sausages wrapped in a flaky pastry crust that come five to an order.

Lamb nachos headline for appetizers, and the lunchtime Woodbines burger is stacked with a blanket of Irish cheddar, thick smoked bacon, and a mound of Irish slaw.  It is disastrously messy, so plan on forking up every bite that falls to the plate.

Of course they serve shepherd’s pie and lamb meatloaf (with hon

ey ginger ketchup), but their pride and joy are the fish & chips, battered an India Pale Ale. For lunch on weekdays, you can get a cheeseburger, chicken Caesar salad, or chicken sandwich for just $10 that comes with a soft drink or mug of coffee.

Be sure to check out the drink list, which features growlers and around eight different whiskey flights, 14 canned beers, and two pages of bottled beers, ciders, and cocktails like the Old Woody — Woodford Reserve with orange bitters, sugar, muddled orange and cherry, and served with a large ice cube.

But the best part is that the staff seems to be the same kind of folks I love anywhere I go.  The bartender, Daniel, runs a sketch comedy group based out of Astoria, and managed to serve me with a perfect balance of humor and sincerity.  Those are the things you can’t put a price tag on.  And since I am addicted to those little sausage rolls and scotch eggs, it looks like I may have a new favorite place to add to my list.

Woodbines Craft Kitchen
47-10 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
718-361-8488

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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More than just a steakhouse


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is not your typical steakhouse.  M. Wells is anything and everything besides just a steakhouse.

In a Napoleonic tradition of aristocracy, corks—still attached to the severed necks of champagne bottles—clunk to the floor with the swing of a sabre.  A couple at the Chef’s Counter sipped glasses of Nero Né, while trout swam beneath the glass countertop.  Beside the trout tank sat four panoramas—two yet-to-be decorated.  One of the designs—perhaps representing Chef Hugue Dufour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis—is of a couple relaxing by their cabin in the mountains, surrounded by grapes and mushrooms and decorations of nuts and berries, as if to celebrate the fruits of their labor.

The entire space is like a breathtaking tribute to the dichotomy between work and play.  From the outside, the space appears to be merely an old rundown garage, while in actuality it is an epicurean sanctuary on the inside.

The menu is equally brilliant and baffling.  Appetizers can easily pass for full meals, and there is so much more than simply steak—though it is very much a presence, with or without the bone, intended to serve just one or an entire party.

On my first visit, a bag secured by a drawstring was the first thing presented at the table, and we stared at it, almost waiting for something to crawl out.  Nothing did—of course—and so we passed out the warm pretzel rolls, which are served with a tiny pitcher of mustard, as well as a warm pat of butter.

From the raw bar, we ordered the “Dog Bowl,” which essentially could have served as our meal.  The lobster tails were exquisitely smoky and sweet after being grilled, then slathered in an herbed aioli.  Pickled smelt lay across potato waffles with crème fraiche, smothered in salty golden orbs of trout roe.  Hackleback caviar was pressed into sheets and served on brioche, like tea sandwiches.  A decadent lobster roll arrived  next, dripping with tarragon aioli.  Escargot was lined up and roasted alongside bone marrow.

Everything was luxurious.

Potato gnocchi were stuffed with foie gras medallions, and poutine was served with straws of crispy golden French fries loaded with melted cheese curds, all drizzled in brown gravy.  The Grassfed Cowboy was as exquisite as any steak I have ever enjoyed, the juices burst in my mouth as I would bite.  And I have never, ever had potatoes like these before—almost two parts butter and cheddar to a single portion of spud—stringing from the spoon playfully as I drew my fork.

The meal was outstanding in every possible way.  And there are so many things that still I want to try.  The beef butter sounds divine.  The Caesar salad looks remarkable, covered in a snowfall of pecorino shavings.  At just $15, the bone-in burger looked  delicious.  And the Coquilles St. Féréol is supposed to be like a seafood shepherd’s pie, with scallops buried beneath an afghan of mashed potatoes, which have been carefully piped onto the plate.

We paid the bill without even considering dessert.  Our waitress, who had been incredible, smiled as she handed me the leftovers in a brown bag.  “I snuck in a piece of cheesecake,” she said as she winked, which I had been eyeing on the dessert cart, swimming in a vanilla bean sauce.

M. Wells
43-15 Crescent St., Long Island City
718-786-9060

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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Osteria Italiana: For a real Italian experience


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Looking for real Italian food, but can’t go to Italy? Then how about Maspeth?

Osteria Italiana, which loosely translates to “Italian restaurant,” opened up over the summer on 61st Street near Grand Avenue with a familiar face.

Head chef and part-owner Michael Zampitelli, who is an Italian native turned Maspeth resident, brings nearly 40 years of Italian cooking experience to the neighborhood. Zampitelli owned a popular restaurant in nearby Glendale, which was forced to close in 2008 due to high rental costs.

Zampitelli, who has worked in the restaurant business starting as a teenager in Rome, wants to bring affordable, authentic Italian food to the neighborhood with Osteria.

Chicken cordon bleu

“Everywhere you go in the city, the neighborhoods are mixed. You can find everything,” Zampitelli said. “Personally I think in Maspeth there are no real Italian restaurants. You find diners and pizzerias, but no real Italian restaurants.”

Aside from Zampitelli’s extensive Italian cooking experience, Osteria’s food is authenticated by the ingredients, such as cheeses and olive oil, which are imported directly from Italy.

The menu at Osteria is wide and can satisfy many taste buds.

Starters include soups, salads and appetizers. One appetizer, the eggplant parmigiana, is covered with fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano cheese with a savory marinara sauce.

Spaghetti alla carbonara 

Entrees include a range of pastas, chicken, veal and fish dishes.

Zampitelli’s spaghetti alla carbonara is a masterpiece at $11.95, for those not watching their waistline. The pasta dish is a mix of pecorino cheese, a creamy sauce and bits of bacon.

The chicken cordon bleu, at $14.95, is a hefty meal with big pieces of tender chicken, served with mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Desserts on the menu include an Italian cheesecake with ricotta cheese and tiramisu, along with other Italian classics. And of course wines, such as merlot, are on the menu as well.

With Zampitelli’s return, some of his long-time customers have followed him to Osteria. He believes it’s because of the quality of his food and the friendly way he treats his patrons.

“Everyone who comes here we treat like family, that’s why they’ve follow me for many, many years,” Zampitelli said.

Osteria Italiana
57-57 61st Street, Maspeth
718-894-4391
Hours: Monday-Sunday Noon-11 p.m.
Cash only
Wheelchair accessible
Delivery

 

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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.

Cavo
42-18 31st Avenue, Astoria
718-721-1001
Closed Mondays
Open daily at 5 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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