‘Dish’ to Greek Food Astoria

GFA recently visited the kitchen of a lovely human and talented cook in our dear neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Enjoy the following highlights from this fun and delicious visit…


Meet Lemona Peikidou.

The cook and heart of the kitchen at Cafe Boulis in Astoria, Queens NYC.

  • Lemona grew up in Drama, Greece (in the north, near the border with Bulgaria)
  • Moved to the U.S.A. when she was 20 years old
  • Learned to cook from her mother, aunt and grandmother
  • Lemona’s youth was surrounded by a beautiful year-round bounty of homegrown produce. They collected fresh milk from the family’s cows, from which they made their own cream, butter and cheese. They even grew their own wheat, which her mother ground into flour.

Back in Greece, we always had fresh vegetables we used from our gardens.

It is only natural, then, that Lemona’s food experiences as a child led to a lifelong appreciation for fresh and local produce.

While the self-sufficient lifestyle she grew up with in Greece isn’t so feasible in NYC, she looks to locally produced ingredients for her traditional recipes at Cafe Boulis.


Spanakopita 101

  • Spanakopita = spanáki (spinach) + píta (pie)
  • It’s a savory pie typically made with a spinach and feta cheese filling. The pie filling, however, can vary based on the region, or “whatever we have at the house.” Growing up Lemona’s family often made the filling using a mix of different in-season greens and their homemade cheese. 
  • In Greece, spanakopita is eaten at any time of day 
  • Lemona was quick to clarify that spanakopita is typically consumed as a side dish or a snack – not as a meal in itself. “In Greece, when you eat, it’s ‘food food’ – not a pie.” 

Cafe Boulis’s Spanakopita

As a resident Astorian, it’s always a delight tasting different spanakopita throughout the neighborhood. Lemona’s spanakopita at Cafe Boulis, however, sets itself apart from the crowd. Its uniqueness lies in her country-style recipe which goes back generations. At its core is the recipe of the talented women she grew up with in the kitchen. Through Lemona’s years of cooking she’s tweaked the recipe to make it her own.

The crust is made up of phyllo that Lemona makes from scratch. The dough’s elasticity is beautiful and impressive.

Homemade phyllo dough

For the filling, Lemona uses locally-produced ingredients whenever possible, with the exception of the feta cheese. “The feta is from Greece…it’s not melty when you cook it, so you can see it after it’s cooked.” The filling included spinach, leeks, egg, olive oil, feta, and plenty of fresh dill. 

Spanakopita filling (Left: before mixing, Right: combined)
Notice she keeps it fairly rustic, which is appealing visually, and creates great texture.

Lemona’s assembly of the spanakopita was smooth and swift. Her expertise was evident in her efficiency and familiarity with the dough. Her hands knew exactly what to do; she made it look effortless. I stood mesmerized as she prepared the phyllo, eventually stretching the dough into translucent sheets.

4. Begin to flatten the dough
(Lemona used a pasta sheet roller attachment on her stand mixer,
but you could instead use a rolling pin, if you want to sweat for it.)
11. Continue layering remaining phyllo to form the top of the pie
14. Fold in and crimp the dough around the perimeter
15. Prick the top of the pie with a sharp knife. This will allow the steam to escape when baking
Lemona’s spanakopita at Cafe Boulis

Visit Cafe Boulis
30-15 31st Avenue
Queens, NY 11106


Lightning Round with Lemona

What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?
Eggplant fried with fresh tomatoes and parsley on top.

If you could learn to cook any one thing, what would it be?
I’d like to experiment with fresh flour…different breads.

What’s your favorite ingredient in Greek cooking?
Fresh parsley. I use it always! And garlic and onions.

Astoria’s Greek food and dining scene during the pandemic

Understanding how the pandemic affects their businesses, and ways we can help

This month we asked Greek food establishments in Astoria, Queens to complete a brief online survey. The goal was to help let the community know how they’re doing, and the best ways to support their businesses during this challenging period.  

The participating establishments included Greek restaurants, bakeries, cafés, and food carts, all of whom were (and are!) open for takeout and delivery.


Ordering food?
Call it in, like the good ol’ pre-app days

When proprietors were asked about the best method(s) for ordering their food, calling directly was the overwhelming preference.

By customers calling directly, the food establishment can avoid the fees charged by food delivery apps that eat away their profit margins. Recently The New York Times wrote about the hot topic in greater detail.

“Even as apps like Grubhub have cast themselves as economic saviors for restaurants in the pandemic, their fees have become an increasing source of difficulty for the establishments.”

– The New York Times

A couple restaurant owners also noted when customers call it creates a dialogue enabling the customer to ask questions, or make special requests (Ex. extra tzatziki!), which sometimes get missed or fail to successfully send via the delivery apps.

HOW THE COMMUNITY CAN HELP: Call one of the delicious establishments on GreekFoodAstoria.com, and place an order for some mouth-watering, authentic Greek cuisine today.


Top 3 most popular takeout items during the pandemic

Cafe Boulis

  1. Loukoumades
  2. Spinach Pie (Their recipe has been passed down through generations.)
  3. Freddo Espresso

Christos Steak House 

  1. 24 ounce 21-Day Dry Aged Ribeye
  2. Lobster Mashed Potatoes
  3. Black Label Burger 

Gyro Uno

  1. Gyro Platter
  2. Cheeseburger Deluxe
  3. Souvlaki Sandwich

Koroni Souvlaki and Grill

  1. Combo of 2 Meats Platter
  2. Mix Grill for 2
  3. Family Chicken Special

La Barista

  1. Nutella Strawberry & Oreo Crepe
  2. Fresh Fruit Smoothies
  3. Spanakopita Spiral

Neptune Diner

  1. Cheeseburger
  2. Greek Salad
  3. Club Sandwich

Souvlaki Lady

  1. Family Special
  2. Chicken Platter
  3. Pork Pita Sandwich

Stamatis

  1. Pastitsio
  2. Lamb Fricase
  3. Seafood Platter

Taverna Kyclades

  1. Whole Fish
  2. Octopus
  3. Greek/Green Salad

Telly’s Taverna

  1. Octopus
  2. Tsatsiki
  3. Lavraki

Zorbas

  1. Souvlaki
  2. Gyro
  3. Salads

HOW THE COMMUNITY CAN HELP: Place an order and try their specialties. They are the most popular menu items for good reason!

Greek Salad at Taverna Kyclades

How takeout and delivery orders have changed during the pandemic

To accommodate customer requests, and better feed a shift in the community’s needs, many businesses have made adjustments to their menus

One example includes requests for more family-sized meals.  

“We added the Family Special to accommodate feeding the entire family which has become a popular lunch and dinner item.”

– Souvlaki Lady

Another example includes an uptick in more healthy orders.

“Orders are more healthy, so we’ve added more menu choices like new smoothies.”

– La Barista

While some establishments have been able to offer larger “family meals,” the declines in volumes and revenue have been particularly apparent for some establishments that offer more snack-style and smaller bite menu items. “Orders tend to be smaller…Extra items, like appetizers and drinks, are not ordered as often,” reported Panagis Travlos of Koroni Souvlaki and Grill. 

Cafe Boulis owner, Panagiotis “Pek” Peikidis, typically relies on the morning coffee crowd for a significant portion of his business. “Many customers that used to come in before work for coffee aren’t traveling to work, or were laid off,” remarked Peikidis.

HOW THE COMMUNITY CAN HELP: Sweeten your morning by treating yourself and a friend to coffees and tasty Greek breakfasts or desserts (loukoumades!). In the afternoon, satisfy your bellies with souvlaki sandwiches and cheese pies. And when evening comes, roll yourselves to the dinner table to enjoy a family-style meal prepared by one of the neighborhood’s delicious Greek businesses.


Astoria’s Greek food establishments want you to know…

“We are all in this together. Our community is amazing and we will all get through this together.”
– Souvlaki Lady

“We will make whatever modifications necessary during this challenging period to deliver the same quality and service while keeping us all safe. We appreciate our customers’ support more than ever during this challenging time.”
– Taverna Kyclades

“Even though there’s a pandemic, Stamatis is here for you.”
– Stamatis

“May god be with us!”
– Telly’s Taverna

“Times are difficult, challenging, and uncertain, but we will try to continue to serve you as best we can and for as long as we can. We are all in this together.”
– Koroni Souvlaki and Grill

“Don’t worry. Have faith in God. Things will work out.”
– Gyro Uno

“Have patience. Things will get better. I think humanity will get back together.”
– Cafe Boulis

“Stay safe. We’re in this together. Add a lot of vitamins and fresh juices to your diet.”
– La Barista

“We’re thankful for your consistency, and appreciate your efforts to keep us going.”
– Neptune Diner

“We are still here to serve you a great meal.”
– Christos Steak House

“Stay safe and hope to see you all soon.”
– Zorbas