Every year at Christmas my grandmother shipped us a 5 pound brick of cheddar cheese. It was bright orange and very mild in taste and the only other cheese-like food I knew about was Velveeta and Kraft singles. Then I moved to NY and discovered Feta. Wow -- white cheese! And it was pungent and salty and crumbly and oh-so-yummy. I loved going to the Olympic Flame diner on 10th avenue and 60th street -- great chicken souvlaki platter, or a "feta burger." I thought I was very cosmopolitan, now that I had discovered "greek food."
Fast forward 20 years later, and I'll admit that I've discovered that there's more to "greek food" than feta cheese and grape leaves. Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue in the 50s is a favorite hangout -- especially when we can have dinner in the garden. Kellari Taverna in mid-town is great fun for drinks and appetizers. And then there's my favorite one -- Avra.
I discovered Avra a few years ago when a client invited me there for lunch. It's a loud, boisterous place, with the tables so close to each other it's hard to know which conversation you're listening too, but the food is delicious. I've been several times, and I love trying different foods on the menu. (I love the hummus, olives, and radishes that are served with the bread basket when I first sit down. Who needs to order lunch when you can just eat that???)
One Saturday when my niece was in town I took Kate and Dash along and we ventured over to Avra for brunch, and it was a very different experience than during the week. There were a handful of guests enjoying a leisurely lunch, and no rushing to get anyone out the door. And yes, the food was far beyond feta. Kate and Dash ordered a hummus sampling and tried out a variety of breads. The "traditional" Greek salad was an amazing assortment of brightly colored tomatoes, hunks of luscious cheese, and an assortment of olives and vegetables. The baklava was light and sweet, but not sickeningly so, and is served with chopped pistachios for some additional crunch.
And here's a tip about a dessert that is not on the standard menu but if you ask nicely, the waiter will bring you a dish of yogurt with cherries in syrup for dessert. It's a wonderful end to a fabulous meal.
How do you say "bon appetit" in Greek?