A few weeks ago, when the new design arrived to my site, I received a comment from a reader named Eric who couldn’t believe, when perusing my new Restaurant Reviews section that I hadn’t yet been to Queens. Eager to remedy this, I wrote him an e-mail and asked him where I should go. He quickly responded and said: “I have been to a number of Astoria Greek places (S’Agapo and Taverna Kyclades) that are really solid.”
So when Rachel Wharton of The Daily News contacted me to do a story about the book (the story is live today–read it here!) I immediately suggested we meet at S’agapo for lunch and Rachel kindly agreed.
The journey to Astoria from Park Slope was surprisingly simple: I hopped on the N train and rode it all the way past 36th Avenue (Washington Ave) to Broadway. (Using Hopstop made all of this easy.) Once there I marveled at the Queens culture I’d been forsaking for so long: Greek bakeries and restaurants lined the avenues and a deeply diverse crowd of people shuffled their way along the sidewalk.
When I got to S’Agapo, I was immediately charmed: the place reminded me of the Greek restaurants I visited the summer I was in Greece (documented right here!) Soon a red-headed stranger came bounding down the street and I immediately knew it was Rachel, who described herself as having red hair and freckles in her e-mail. At least I hoped it was her: that’d be weird of another red-headed freckled stranger was bounding towards me for no reason.
We quickly got a table outside and soon a photographer joined us. I won’t go into the beat-by-beat process by which we chose what to order, or how the waiter really didn’t want his picture taken. Let’s focus on the food, all of which was wonderful.
This sampler of Greek spreads says it all:
There was parsley spread (the owner’s favorite), a beet spread, tzatziki, hummus, eggplant spread, and–my personal favorite–taramasalata. The pita they served it with was fresh and hot. We all dug in ravenously.
Soon more food arrived. The waiter had suggested a salad of wild greens and I was wary: I would’ve have preferred the standard Greek salad of tomatoes, onions and cucumber, but he was so enthusiastic we couldn’t say no. And I’m glad he was so forceful: this salad was delicate and perfectly dressed with lemon and olive oil (that we later learned the owner’s husband makes HIMSELF!) Here’s Rachel taking notes with the salad and spreads in front of her:
Soon the owner, Barbara Lambrakis, came out to talk to us, delighted that The Daily News was doing a story. What a charming woman, here she is with Rachel:
She talked to us all about the restaurant, how her mother lives close by, how she makes all the spreads from scratch, how her husband makes the olive oil. Then she went in the kitchen and soon they brought out these incredible Greek meatballs that were packed with flavor and “very lean,” she later explained (though they were so flavorful, I can’t believe there wasn’t at least a healthy dose of fat). We had ordered a whole roasted fish for ourselves which the waiter prepped tableside. There were lemon potatoes, which were truly excellent.
But the best–far and away the best–item of food that reached our table was the one Barbara presented with the most pride: handmade kaltsounia pastries stuffed with ricotta and mint. They came with a side of Greek honey and tell me you don’t want to warp yourself into the screen so you can eat these right now:
I loved them. The pastry was delicate, the inside subtle, and dipped in the honey it was like a doughnut made by the gods.
Soon Rachel led me on a tour through Astoria–we stopped at a Greek bakery (I was so full, I could barely sip the frappe Rachel ordered: a truly excellent one, but way too heavy for the moment); we visited a Greek grocery store where I bought an incredibly cheap and wildly vibrant wedge of feta (used later in the week for Greek salads), and then, at the final stop, another store where I purchased terrific tamarasalata (“The best in Queens,” said Rachel) and Greek Delight (like Turkish Delight) made with rosewater. I still have plenty of these left and each bite reminds me of my odyssey through Astoria.
So thanks to Eric for nudging me, I’m glad I finally went; thanks for Rachel and The Daily News for taking me; and thanks to Barbara for being such a lovely hostess. I can’t wait to go back.