I must confess, even with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never been to Greece. Yet I find that I’m magnetically drawn to Greek cuisine and culture — perhaps it was those three years of studying Ancient Greek so long ago in high school. Reading Medea, learning about Ancient Greek civilization, and eating my 10th grade Greek teacher’s homemade baklava all somehow infiltrated my psyche.
Thankfully, in New York it’s easy to have an authentic Greek experience. Which is why I sometimes make pilgrimages from my apartment to restaurants, markets, and museums in search of all things Greek.
Get Me to the Greek Culture
Astoria has a Greek Cultural Center, where the Greek community has been gathering for theatre, musical events, and performances for kids since 1974.
In Manhattan, visit the impressive Greek art collection at NYC’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art for ancient sculptures, vases, and Hellenistic art. Or check The Onassis Foundation in the Olympic Towers for art exhibits, concerts, lectures and film screenings — all to promote and celebrate ancient, Byzantine, and Hellenic civilizations.
Food, Food, Food
Of course, afterward you may want to go out to eat, and Midtown has several great choices. Kellari Taverna serves up fresh Greek seafood and lots of Greek wines, while Avra Estiatorio offers traditional food for the upscale diner. Ethos has more authentic food, including spanakopita, saganaki, and grilled lamb chops. If you’d rather eat on the go, Uncle Gussy’s is where midtown workers line up for the traditional Greek food.
Greek cuisine can be found all over New York, especially in Astoria in Queens, known for its large Greek community. I sometimes head to Taverna Kyclades for seafood or Agnanti, which has a fun vibe, outdoor dining, and a stellar fig martini (not to mention the meze).
I was excited to find out that Michael Psilakis, chef/owner of several highly-regarded Greek restaurants, opened up a new place: MP Taverna. One can only expect great things from Chef Psilakis, and MP Taverna is no different. On the menu: dishes like lamb shank with orzo, Greek paella, and grilled octopus with chickpea salad. Chef Psilakis might have grown up on Long Island, not Crete or Corfu, but his food is top-notch and authentic, thanks to his Greek upbringing.
Manhattan also has a few authentic experiences. Loi on the Upper West Side serves traditional Greek food from famed Greek chef Maria Loi, who has cooked at the White House.
Downtown, Pylos in the East Village, Thalassa in Tribeca, and Melibea in the West Village offer different experiences. Pylos is small and intimate, with rustic home cooking from Diane Kochilas: classic egg lemon soup with Champagne, moussaka, pistachio-crusted wild bass, and a creamy classic dessert, galaktaboureko, which is phylo dough filled with custard and drizzled with honey.
Meanwhile, Thalassa is vast and cavernous — a great place for a date or a big dinner party. The focus here is on fresh fish, including Greek fisherman’s soup, crabmeat salad, calamari stuffed with feta, and turbot with artichokes and leaks.
Melibea’s focus is Mediterranean, and that includes several wonderful Greek dishes: homemade ricotta with preserved lemon and fresh oregano, Greek salad with tzatziki, and Venison moussaka.
For a dessert or snack, there’s a new Greek yogurt available at farmer’s markets around the city. Sohha Yogurt offers both sweet and savory toppings; “caffeine crunch” features ground coffee beans, dark chocolate and sea salt while “beets melody” has beets, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil on top of the creamy yogurt made with milk from local cows. It’s a real Greek treat.
Market Fresh, Straight from Greece
There are occasions when I want to make Greek food at home. When I do, I head straight to Titan Foods, which imports its food directly from Greece. This Greek mecca has it all for any dish you want to make: phylo dough, an array of feta cheese, vats of olives (you must visit the olive bar in the back if you go), Greek spices, yogurt (at a fraction of the cost elsewhere), and so much more to create a Greek feast at home.
While I like to make my own dips, it’s fun to pick up pre-made ones from time to time, including taramosalata, tzatziki, and melitzanosalata. A few dips, stuffed grape leaves, feta, olives, plus pita bread makes a perfect dinner.
In Manhattan, Ninth Avenue International Food, in Hell’s Kitchen, sells all sorts of Mediterranean foods, and their choices for Greek goodies are on par with Titan. You’ll find several types of feta, an amazing olive bar, and barrels of spices, plus a whole lot more for an authentic Greek dinner.
New York might be surrounded by the Hudson and East Rivers, not the Aegean and Ionian seas, yet you can have an authentic — and delicious — Greek experience here.
Photo credits: Met Museum, Jpatokal, Andre Baranowski, Tracey Ceurvels, and hotblack.