If your experience of Greek restaurants in Queens is limited to walking past a large selection of fresh fish to be paired with the ubiquitous Greek salad, shake up this stereotype at uber-hip Ovelia in Astoria. Open for lunch, weekend brunch and dinner, this spot delivers Greek chic to a youngish hip crowd seated inside and, in warmer weather, spilling onto the many sidewalk café seats both in front and at the side.
Black-clad waiters are attentive, checking to see if everything is as it should be--and it pretty much is. Portions are large and if you can't finish, ask and an attractive box and shopping bag will be furnished. Fish is available but it's not the main event. Peter Giannakas, scientist turned chef, is in charge, offering a modern menu with classic overtones, largely executed by Ioannis and Evangelia Giannakas.
You can start with cold mezze like kafteri, hot peppers with "double cream feta," hummus or the Greek yogurt, dill and garlic dip, tzatziki. There are also hot mezze including a grilled half octopus which the woman next to me enjoyed and fried feta cubes which our waiter touted but we passed on. A section of the menu is devoted to psistaria, aka grilled items that can be a half chicken or the fabulous monastriaki bifteki that mixes ground lamb, beef and pork into long kebabs and serves three of these over quarters of pita with grilled tomatoes, a grilled jalepeno pepper and more tzatziki, as well as a side of choice, all for $18. (I picked the kale, wanting a little greenery as a counterpoint.) Mousakas (their spelling) contains layers of potato, eggplant, zucchini, and a "Greek Bolognese sauce," topped with Béchamel. The Saganaki burger brings chopped veal on pide bread topped with elegantly sliced cucumbers along with thick, though not very crisp, fries and sets you back $20.
You can indulge in creative cocktails like the mojito or a (non-Greek) frozen Margarita; or sangria; drink retinsa as I did, amazed at the large size of a small bottle (but not impressed with the taste which was less resinous than I like) or try any of a number of wines and non-alcoholic beverages. Desserts range from the truly Greek as in yogurt, honey and walnuts to the fried chocolate bar that sounds like a death wish but is probably terrific.
At brunch, the egg dishes are accompanied by a mimosa, Bloody Mary, juice or coffee and the place is usually mobbed. In a nod to today, Ovelia's kitchen is certified gluten-free. No kids' menu. Wednesdays feature Rock'nRibs with the usual suspects and Sundays bring a Happy Hour from 6-9 PM with a raw bar and lobster. This is a local gem that keeps happy customers coming back for more.