Tag Archives: Greece

Cypriot Cuisine at Zenon Taverna in Astoria, Queens

cyprusThe neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, NYC is known for its huge Greek population (which is still growing today), and accordingly, you can find some of the best Greek food in the city (and country) in this one neighborhood. It also means that a diversity of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine not seen elsewhere abounds. We were happy to find that one of the few Cypriot restaurants in the US was located in Astoria, Zenon Taverna (34-10 31 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106 ).


Cypriot food is similar to what most Americans think of as typical Greek food, but with more Middle-Eastern influences, given its history and location. The menu at Zenon is staggering, with a huge option of cold and hot meze appetizers including favorites like hummus and tzatziki as well as more unusual options like quails and stuffed mushrooms. For entrees, there are dozens of pitas; chicken, lamb and fish platters; as well as meat and veggie samplers. Each day, there are also upwards of 6 specials including: Keftedes Kypriaki ($10.50 S / $17.99 L) pork and potato meatballs; Louvia me Lahana – blackeyed peas with Swiss chard ($6.50 S / $12.50 L)and pastitsio (a lasagna-like layered lamb dish). We didn’t really know what to pick, so we went with 2 samplers to share among our group, along with an appetizer of char-grilled octopus ($17.95) and Cypriot rabbit stew on special for the day- Kouneli Stifado ($19.95).


The Cyprus Meze sampler ($24.95 a person) came with a total of 16 meze – 8 hot and 8 cold. Everything was bright, fresh and delicious, but there were a few standouts. Zenon did a great job with classics like tzatziki and hummus, but we really loved some of the more unusual choices like the tarama – carp roe with potatoes and the fresh, vinegar-y pantzarosalada – beet salad. In terms of the hot dishes, there was a heavy emphasis on fish and pork. We highly enjoyed the smoked pork loin – lunza, the loukaniko spitisio – Cypriot pork sausage cooked in wine – and the keftedes arnisia – garlickly lamb meatballs. Of course another winner was the baked sheep and goat milk cheese halloumi, doused with lemon juice. The octopus appetizer we ordered was another favorite, and the special-of-the-day rabbit stew cooked in red wine was tasty, if a little game-y.


If you leave room for dessert, there is baklava and semolina desserts like siamali and halouvas, which you can wash down with a traditional frappe or Greek coffee. Alas, we did not leave room, since our Cypriot Meze order was so huge! We are a big fans of Greek food, and we really enjoyed trying something a little different at Zenon. One caveat – they are cash only! This is not a super-cheap place, so we went to the ATM in advance instead of testing our luck with the ATM around the corner. We recommend you come to Zenon with a crowd – there are so many dishes and mezes to share – the more, the merrier!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Greek Vasilopita for the New Year

GreeceOne of our friends’ mothers recently gifted us a large Vasilopita cake in the shape of a fish (which seems to be one-of-a-kind)! Fish or not, there is a long tradition of having Vasilopita – an orange-flavored cake topped with nuts – on New Year’s Day for good luck. Much like a king cake, there is a hidden trinket or coin in the cake that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. Vasilopita is popular in Greece and the Balkans, and I have seen several permutations of the cake: some including multiple tiers, or a vanilla glaze. Here is a two-tiered Greek version from Epicurious, a glazed version from My Greek Dish, and a Vasilopita with a more bread-like consistency from Bowl of Delicious. Happy new year! Ευτυχισμένος ο καινούριος χρόνος!


Vasilopita by Resturante Kaialde


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Detroit: City of Coney Island Restaurants

GreeceWe spent last weekend in Detroit which is an awesome food city we are just beginning to explore. While driving around we noticed (often brightly-colored) restaurants called “Coney Island” all over the place. We had heard of the famous Coney Island dogs themselves, hot dogs topped with beanless chili, which have become the quintessential food of Detroit (with variations throughout Michigan). However, we also learned that the name, “Coney Island” refers to a whole genre of restaurants. The name “Coney Island” dates back to the early 20th Century to a Greek restaurant started by Greek brothers Bill and Gus Keros in 1914, which served Coney dogs. The two brothers split in 1917 and each created their own rival “Coney Island” restaurant, Lafayette Coney Island and the American Coney Island. The format of serving Coney Island dogs and other American foods alongside Greek dishes like gyros and souvlaki worked, and other Coney Island imitators began popping up all over town. The restaurants can still be found throughout the state today, under the leadership of Greek and Macedonian restaurateurs, as well as newer arrivals. To learn more about the history of the Coney Island, there is now an entire book about them, Coney Detroit. Who serves the best Coney is a matter of taste – do you have a favorite?


The Two original rival Coney Island joints by SB Tuska

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A Quick Bite at Oakland Gyros in Milwaukee

GreeceI had a favorite gyros place growing up in Chicago, but recently they stopped carving gryos off the spit, instead resorting to heating up pre-portioned and cooked meat. I only found out when I ordered a gyro and every piece was paper thin and completely uniform. How can that be!?! So I’ve been on a quest to find a gyro replacement ASAP. We had heard from our foodie cousin and several other Milwaukee locals that Oakland Gyros was good, and even though its Milwaukee location does not put it in our regular rotation, we knew we had to go give it a try. There are two locations, old (2867 N. Oakland Ave.) and new (9530 W Layton Ave.), and we ended up being closer to the new Layton Ave. location. wpid-wp-1415810238390.jpeg

This location is outfitted like a basic fast food joint, but there is plenty of seating (you order at the counter and then your order gets delivered to you). When we stepped right in we knew we were in for some good eats right away. Behind the simple takeout counter there were two large rotating cones of meat, which obviously is a necessity for a good gyro, though not always a given. We ordered chicken souvlaki platter and a classic lamb/beef gyro. In Greek diner tradition, the menu is pretty exhaustive, including various burger permutations, spinach pie, Philly cheese steaks, soup, malts, and even Greek frappe coffee. Another great feature is that they bring you a whole bottle of tzatziki sauce with your order – not just a measly little cup.

Even though there was a bit of line we did not have to wait long at all to get our food. This gyro looked pretty darn good and certainly was generously portioned. The gyro meat was tasty and flavorful, and the tzatziki sauce was delicious, but the gyros meat did not have the crispy edge that I’ve come to expect from off-the-cone gyros. Some describe these gyros as “thick cut,” which I am sure has its backers, but I think I prefer the thin cut variety with a nice char. M devoured the souvlaki, which was piled perilously high with charred meat and onions (the fries were pretty good, too), with a nice chunk of feta on the side. It is also worth noting that the pita was also particularly light and fluffy, and left us hoping we had ordered a few extras. Oakland Gyros is a great lunch option in Milwaukee, but the quest for the prefect gyro in Chicago continues. Any suggestions?

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Koulourakia – Greek Easter Cookies

GreeceHappy Easter! Easter really crept up on us this year, though we had the chance to make bunny-shaped chocolate cupcakes (yum!). However, if you are in the mood for something a little different, how about Koulourakia, braided, buttery Greek Easter Cookies. These cookies are traditionally eaten around Easter, and sometimes around Christmas as well, and are often topped with sesame seeds. Kalo Pascha!

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Global Easter Recipe Roundup

Easter may be over, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make holiday-themed food (and we aren’t going to be retiring our Peeps-shaped muffin pan). In that spirit, we have a roundup of some international carb-heavy Easter recipes for your enjoyment.

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Revelation of the year: Yogurt and Honey

How, oh how, did it take us so long to realize the wonders of this culinary marriage? Our first stop in Istanbul had introduced us to the wonders of fresh honey – breakfast each day at the hotel supplied fresh honeycomb, which we liberally spread on, well, everything – but Greece made us realize what it means to spread that honey all over some smooth, rich, yogurt. Our first day in Santorini, we walked into Oia and hopped into a cute cafe. Our honey love having been born only a few days before, M opted for the “yogurt and honey” for 4.5 euros. What came out was nearly a meal – a large bowl of Greek yogurt drowning in honey. This quickly became our newest obsession: we scoured the island, and the rest of Greece frankly, for versions of this culinary delicacy. Both of our hotels in Santorini had great versions, but Crete took things to another level.

Vrysses Yogurt

The famous yogurt of Vrysses, Crete

The small town of Vrysses, in central-west Crete, is famous around the island, and most of Greece, for the honey produced there, as well as the yogurt that goes with it. Driving into the small town square, the central fountain plaza is surrounded by honey shops. With no info to make a decision, we opted for the one that looked the most family-run: Kaprri. We ordered two plates – not bowls here, as they usually come – and we quickly caught on to what makes Vrysses honey so distinctive. The yogurt was approaching the consistency and flavor of sour cream, which was paired with a light clover honey, a wonderful complement that reduced a lot of the overpowering sugary sweetness that we usually associate with yogurt and honey.

In Athens, we were fortunate enough to discover a yogurt and honey BAR, Fresko – yes! – located just outside the spectacular new Acropolis Museum (Fresko, Dionysiou Areopagitou 3, Athens 11742, Greece). Notice: we need this place in the United States. Six kinds of yogurt, two kinds of honey, plus an assortment of smoothies and other drinks. M nearly died and went to heaven, savoring both some honey and a pomegranate smoothie while there.

Fresko in Athens

Fresko in Athens

Back in the USA, we’ve been getting more into the yogurt and honey scene around us. Our favorite brand of Greek yogurt – which we were happy to find also for sale in Lisbon – is Fage. We’ve been buying a four-pack almost weekly, and pairing it with locally-produced honeys at breakfast. Chicago has a great honey collective for those of you around town, the Chicago Honey Co-op.

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No Souvlaki on the bus!

Lucky’s Souvlaki
Main Street, Thira, Santorini 848

Santorini is a rather expensive island, no surprise given the huge tourist crowd. However, hidden in the corners are a few places where you can still get cheap, tasty eats. One such place is Lucky’s Souvlaki, where you can get a pita full of grilled meat for less than 3 euros. Lucky’s Souvlaki is just north of the bus station in Thira, where we had to make many transfers to Ia/Oia and other parts of the island. Lucky’s is a tiny storefront, but is extremely crowded with both tourists and locals alike hoping for a souvlaki fix.

We each ordered a chicken souvlaki to go, from a rather large menu of souvlaki, falafel, gyros and other pita sandwiches. Souvlaki itself refers to meat that has been cooked on a kebab in Greek cuisine, and Lucky’s had a small mountain of meat ready to roast. Our souvlaki was cooked fresh to order and served with a healthy helping of tzatziki and tomatoes. Moreover, there were fries IN the pita – we also saw this preparation in Chania – who knew this is an apparently native style of pita preparation?

Though we were huge fans, unfortunately not everyone in Santorini is pro-Souvlaki. In fact, while attempting to board the bus after purchasing our Souvlaki we got kicked off the bus with a curt “No Souvlaki on the bus!”

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[Road Trip Eats] Greece: Omonia Cafe

Greece Omonia Cafe
3220 Broadway
Astoria, NY 11106

Astoria in Queens, NY is known for its Greek restaurants, and M and I were treated to a tour of the main drag by our New York friends Lauren and Ryan. Omonia Cafe is one of many Greek restaurants in Astoria and has been commanding a prominent corner there since 1977. There is no way you can miss this place, especially at night, as it is covered with colorful lights and neon signs. Snagging an outside spot also makes for some good people watching, and on nice nights, the outdoor area is overflowing. The menu is huge and varied, but concentrates on Greek (no surprise there), Italian and classic American favorites. There are also several pages dedicated to desserts, but I’ll get to that later.

For an appetizer we all ordered saganaki, one of M and my favorite Greek indulgences. How can you really go wrong with fried kasseri cheese, now? Omonia delivered on this one, though it does not come to the table with the “opa!” fanfare of the Chicago Greektown restaurants. I (L) ordered homemade spanikopita spinach pie stuffed with feta. The homemade version of the pie was on the menu along side with a cheaper spanikopita that was not billed as homemade. I’m glad I went with the homemade dish – since you could really taste that it was. M ordered the Penne a la Vodka, one of his favorites. Despite coming from a Greek restaurant, their rendition of the Italian dish was solid. Lauren sampled a dish I had never seen before – Strapatsada, which were a kind of Greek scrambled egg dish mixed with feta, tomatoes, olives and oregano, with pita triangles. This new dish was intriguing to me, and if I ever come back to Omonia, it would make an awesome brunch dish.

However, the real showstopper at the Omonia Cafe is the dessert case at the adjoining bakery. My sleuthing even tells me that this bakery created the flamboyant cake for the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. How cool is that? The desserts range from traditional Greek (Baklava and Yianniotiko – phyllo with nuts and shredded wheat) to Italian (Cannolis and Tiramisu) to plain American (Strawberry Shortcake and Jello). We tried a sampling of desserts including galactoboureko, which was a milk and honey custard baked on a phyllo crust. This unpronounceable dessert was very light, and pleasantly sweet. We also sampled a little chocolate and almond tart, which had a filling of chocolate cream and an indescribable liquor (orange? hazelnut? almond? all of the above? we have no idea). With all of the tantalizing desserts on display, hopefully we’ll be back someday to try out some more!

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Greece: Isabella’s Estiatorio [Closed]

GreeceIsabella’s Estiatorio [Closed]
330 W. State St.,
Geneva, IL

Isabella’s Estiatorio in downtown Geneva, IL really is an unexpected find. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that though, since they definitely have been found, what with a Zagat Rating proudly displayed, as well as a featured spot on Check Please!. We arrived at Isabella’s on a blustery Thursday, and the restaurant was already crowded. The dining room is understated and elegant, with hardwood floors and big picture windows. As we came in out of the cold and we were warmly greeted by our hostess and server (we thankfully had a reservation). The menu consists of a variety of rotating seasonal Mediterranean (with emphasis on Greek) dishes.

We started out with their home made dip plate, which consisted of a basket of fresh pita bread and a sample of four Greek dipping sauces and olives ($12). The included dips were tzatziki, melitzanosalata (chopped eggplant and tomatoes), taramosalata (Cod caviar) and hummus. All of the dips were excellent, and more than enough for two to share. The dish came highly recommended, and is always available, not matter the season. M also enjoyed a baby spinach salad with pears and blue cheese ($8).

For the main course, I (L) ordered the pork tenderloin with an apple cider glaze ($23). My favorite part of the dish was the neat little square of Manchego Potatoes Au Gratin, which was a cheesy layered, lasagna-style concoction. M chose mesquite grilled lamb chops ($28), which he had sampled there many times before. The chops came with crispy potatoes and a lemon-oregano reduction. The latest incarnation of the chops did not disappoint, and were tender and moist.

For dessert we had the white chocolate mousse, which was probably the least successful of the dishes. It was fairly watery, with both the texture and flavor of a mediocre zabaglione. But no matter, the rest of the meal had made up for it. Isabella’s is a great, unexpected spot for dinner if you happen to be in the Western suburbs. The service is friendly, the food is great and the atmosphere is refined, yet relaxed.

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Visiting (and eating) Chicago’s Greektown

GreeceChicago’s Greektown is solid. You never get a truly bad meal there, and are often pleasantly surprised. In the past few weeks both of us have been to Greektown (though separately) and enjoyed some pretty darn good eats.

212 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL

I (L), went to Athena at 4 PM on New Years day with my entire family. I’ve figured out over the years that New Years day is a great day to do pretty much anything. The town is abandoned and there are no lines, since everyone is sleeping New Years Eve off. Anyway, the place was literally empty, so the servers and host were especially happy to see us. We were seated right away, of course, and given a basket of crusty bread (no pita?). We started off with Saganaki (opa!), which was a perfectly warm and melty pick-me-up for the brutal cold. I had the stuffed chicken breast (filled with feta and spinach), which was very good, though the rice tasted like it was a Lipton package, and I left it mostly untouched. The rents had a gyros plate and lamb and endive plate. The gyros plate was served on a bed of onions and tomatoes with a side of tzatziki. It was a tasty choice, generously proportioned and nicely spiced.

The lamb plate was the special of the day and it was probably the least solid of the bunch (though it came recommended by the waiter). The lamb, though tasty and tender, was mostly bone and the endive did not hold up especially well under a thick lemon and egg sauce. The winner of the bunch, however, was the lemon roasted chicken that my sibling picked. DELICIOUS. The presentation is simple, 3 pieces of skinless on-the bone chicken, charbroiled with a lemon glaze. The chicken was perfectly tender, and came with some nice Yukon gold potatoes to boot. All in all the service was attentive and the prices reasonable (between 9 and 16 for most entrees). Though they are perhaps most famous for their outside seating, Athena’s dining room itself is pleasant and warm with murals of Greek gods and goddesses and a cozy fireplace. Athena is a great place for crowds, families or any Greek food lover, year-round.

Mr. Greek Gyros
234 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL

After a busy museum day, some friends and I (M) decided a quick, cheap meal in Greektown was the way to go. Greektown is generally known for its more expensive sit-down service restaurants, but the fast-food style Mr. Greek was just what we needed. The McDonald’s style seating and complete lack of decor aren’t impressive, but the food made up for it. For $5.50 I got a huge gyro with all the extras, (including tzatziki) for the price. The portions were generous, piled high with onions and the nice greasy meat that can only come from years of gyro-making experience. Fries and a drink were included with the combo meal for only 25 cents over the standard gyro price. Some of my friends tried the baklava, which was surprisingly tasty given Mr. Greek’s fast-food moniker. Overall, don’t go here expecting an amazing Greektown experience, but if you’re in the area and need a quick cheap bite, you probably can’t find anywhere much better. You definitely get your money’s worth, and then some.

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