BY ELENA MANCINI
At a recent blog-relaunch event in honor of Fooditka.com (formerly Foodista), I had the pleasure of feasting on inventive Greek-inspired dishes with four smart, food-savvy women at Ovelia’s and falling in a lit bit more in love with Astoria. The woman of the evening was Judith Klein-Rich, Founder and Editor of Fooditka. Fooditka is a dynamic food blog that features many of Judith’s recipes, cooking experiments, Astoria-centered restaurant reviews and a variety of food-centered stories. The blog’s new name is a playful homage to Slovakia, where Judith was born and spent part of her childhood. I was thrilled to be on her guest list, and my attendance at her Ovelia Psistaria event was a great opportunity for me to enjoy some modern Greek flavors in NYC’s flagship Greek neighborhood of Astoria, and to commune with fellow food bloggers, in physical real-time. How nice it feels to write about a social experience that cannot be preceded by the adjective “virtual!” As a result, my new foodie friends include Erin of Gluten-Free Fun, Lindsay of TheLunchBelle.com and Meg of Harmonious Bellies. Meg is also a regular contributor to We heart Astoria along with Judith.
“Ovelia Psistaria,” as its web site instructs, connotes the ritual of cooking lamb on a spit on an open flame and the type of place in which such food is served. Despite its traditional sounding name, however, Ovelia’s offers a contemporary spin on Greek cuisine fused with local New York flair and flavors. It features a happening bar scene in the front of the establishment, seasonal patio dining and the dining area champions a hip, contemporary decor that meshes classic Modernism with with funky kitsch: think murals evocative of Braque and Dali flanked by Patricia-Field-inspired sculptures. It’s odd, but it works with Ovelia’s fun and energetic vibe. Its extensive menu encompasses brunch, lunch and dinner and includes classic casseroles as well as fish and meat options. Dinner entrees range roughly from $15 – $32, lunch items are mostly below the $15 range. The restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan options as well as gluten-free alternatives. Gracious chef and co-owner, Peter Giannakas, was quick in providing ready gluten-free substitutions for Erin of Gluten Free Fun, which included cucumber slices instead of pita and ribs dressed in gluten-free barbeque sauce.
A round of dry rosé wine sangria kicked off an evening of hearty grazing and foodie-pow-wowing and information sharing. The sangria, made with a dry, yet pleasingly light rosé stood out for its confetti-like sprinklings of freshly cut kiwi and strawberry. Each sip of it delivered a lively burst of summer freshness to the palate. Next came an abundant spread of Greek and American appetizers. There was grilled halloumi on a bed of prosciutto, kafteri poppers, which consisted of feta and grilled jalapeno, fried, semolina-coated calamari feta cubes coated in black-and-white sesame seeds and a hint of honey, grilled loukaniko, a delicious house-made sausage flavored with fennel, savory seasonings and orange zest. The loukaniko is a Giannakas family recipe, and prepared by chef and co-owner, Peter Giannaka’s parents, Ioannis and Evangelia. The loukaniko was also used for the generous appetizer serving of corn dog buttons. Ensconced in a savory coating of fried cornmeal, and in dainty coin size servings, these were the most gourmet corn dogs that I have ever seen or tasted. There was a plate of warm, slightly tangy pita bread and an addictive pretzel bread made by The loukaniko and the sesame-coated feta cubes were my favorites. The loukaniko, my Astoria friends enthusiastically informed me, is also a beloved fixture on Ovelia’s weekend brunch menu. It also bears noting here that Ovelia’s appetizer options includes many traditional Greek mezes including taramosalata, eggplant salad.
More than happily sated on this course alone, little did I know that the evening still held voluminous platters of ribs and grilled meats and rich sides in store for us. There were heaping trays of succulent bbq’ed ribs seductively dressed in barbeque sauce. The smoky-flavored meat was so tender it slid right off the bone, and was not the least bit fatty. There was chicken: deep fried and grilled. I savored both. The fried chicken had a crisp and non-greasy pepper-seasoned buttermilk crust and was cooked to perfection. The grilled variety was tender lemon-flavored juiciness buried under a thin coat of rewarding blistered char. The sides included many a nod to Fourth of July and Thanksgiving goodness with mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and sweet potatoes sprinkled with marshmellows and a side of Greek style sauteed spinach and lemon potatoes for good ethnic measure. Needless to say, the collective state of food-induced coma that ensued after this delicious feast would not even allow for the word dessert to be uttered. Unspoken consensus turned the word into table taboo.
The company and the food made me feel instantly rewarded for having attended the Fooditka event. The fare, pricing and vibe at Ovelia clearly warrant returning to there. As for the neighborhood it’s located it in–an Astoria artery that is lined with the nostalgically priced fish-mongers, green grocers, Greek cafeterias– it made me heart Astoria even more than before. And I will be sure to explore the area that Harmonious Bellies’ Meg Cotner, referred to as the “food nexus of Astoria,” that is to say neighboring block of 31st Ave. and 34th. St.
This post is participating in the Astoria Blog Carnival, hosted by We Heart Astoria.