Alpha Astoria

2 german girls review greek cafes in Astoria Queens

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lefkos Pirgos -- 31st 23rd ave

Cafe number 4 is Lefkos Pirgos. There was a time (way back last week) when we had decided that Lefkos was a bakery and not a cafe and therefore we did not have to go there -- but then one of our readers claimed it was a cafe and it went back on the list no questions asked -- this is just one of the many sacrifices we have made for you people.

That said... Lefkos is TOTALLY a bakery (in your face readers!). They don't have menus save the little plastic table-top cards and though they *claim* to serve pizza and "Greek toast" (toast with honey? toast with humus? toast with Nescafe? mmmmm yummy!) there was no kitchen that we could see. They do however have:

1. Booze
2. Greek TV with the volume set to"outdoor voice" and the channel set to "bad soap opera"(special bonus: Greek subtitles! for our deaf readers who also read Greek (niche market people.))
3. Enough pastries to support the suspicious number of dentists in Astoria (seriously, we may have stumbled upon a vast conspiracy...).

The crowd skewed much older and less euro-trashy than that at the last three establishments. Because we are young, arrogant whippersnappers old kind of brings the Patron attractiveness rating down. The wait staff held their own though -- these Greek cafes seem to have a monopoly on pretty young things.

We were going to sit outside, however "outside" is a synonym for "smoking section" so we sat inside mostly by ourselves (there was also an old Greek lady with her eyes glued to the soaps... more on her later, stay tuned.). The no-menus thing caught us off guard and made us look like bumbling idiots in front of our very nice waitress who immediately showed up to take our order. After much hemming and hawing by the two of us she offered to take us up to the never ending row of pastry cases and explain in detail all of our options -- yeah! The dessert selection at Lefkos is really quite impressive -- we felt somewhat obligated to get something vaguely Greek so we steered away from the (very tempting) napoleons, cheesecakes and tiramisu. We settled on Ekmek ($5.00) -- a layered cake thing consisting of:

1. layer of shredded philo dough
2. layer of honey soaked almonds
3. layer of vanilla custard
4. layer of whipped cream
Place this into a large pool of Greek honey and voila! 5000 calories of yum.

We also both had a medium (sweetness, not size) frappe ($3.50) which was good though less sweet then those offered at other places (we could have both gone for a "sweet" over the "medium" -- on that note, we're feeling pretty hip to the lingo these days, impressive huh?). Amy's milk refused to merge with her nescafe and sugar making her slightly concerned about her stirring abilities.

We did not go to the bathroom so we can't give it rating (damn our empty bladders) -- pee at your own risk folks.

Awesome Astoria Activities

I wonder what the over/under is on Amy fitting into her wedding dress after 15 more servings of Greek desserts....

Also: a few stores down (towards Ditmars) we stopped in on the cutest little boutique with adorable designer-y clothing at fairly reasonable prices. We plan on spending money here in an effort to encourage clothing stores other than Mandee to converge on the neighborhood.

Food: 3.5
Service: 4.5
Ambiance: 2.5
Average Attractiveness of Staff: 3
Average Attractiveness of Patrons: 2

And now a very scary story:

Upon starting this project we had been slightly concerned that we might not be so welcome in the Greek cafes what with our clearly not Greek looks. But mostly we (and our money) have been welcomed, and with the exception of the occasional absent waitress (who, it should be noted seems to be absent regardless of ethnicity) we've felt very comfortable in the cafes that we've been to. Ironically we immediately started talking about this when we sat down at Lefkos....

So. It's late in the review process, most of the cake has been reduced to custard residue mixed with honey. We're sitting there in the corner. Drinking our coffees, taking notes, making catty comments about people walking by. Brianna decides to take a picture of the pretty pretty spinning tower of cakes. This was, perhaps, a huge mistake.

The old Greek lady was ripped away from her soap operas when her spidey senses alerted her to the illegal (??) photo-taking events now transpiring in (her?) cafe. She immediately came over to our table to demand information about the photo we had just taken -- but before we could even get out our lie (about a friend? with a birthday coming up? and how he would love a pretty pretty yummy cake? and that we would totally give her money for it?) she informed us that our behavior would not be tolerated and that next time we should "Be careful" and "Watch out." We tried to laugh this off and smile cutely so she would turn off her evil eye and go back to her soaps but... no dice.

So... we're not sure if we'll be doing another review; we might have a curse on us, or we might be killed by the Greek old lady Mafia. If either of these things happen please, someone hire Chloe from Smallville, or Veronica Mars or one of those CSI guys to use their magic crime fightin' tools to examine this photo and figure out just what kind of evil plot the Lefkos cake display is a front for.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kolonaki Cafe -- Broadway and 33rd St

Dreams really do come true. Just three days ago we wished extra hard and with all our might to be at Kolonaki Café and here we are. This is proof that if you believe in your dreams you will make them happen.

Kolonaki is cute – it has a second story with adorable balconies that look out on to Broadway and 33rd which makes for great people watching. The décor inside is nice if a bit garish – the huge scepter-like sconces were a bit daunting, especially since the scuff marks on the wall seem to indicate that they occasionally fall down and impale people (talk about good people watching!). The tables were, again, very close together – perhaps to make non-Europeans feel chubby, squeezing into a seat is an exercise in sucking it in. The lobby area has a collection of Greek themed gifts for sale – most of the items were Easter based today (Greek Easter in t-minus 4 days!) but they also had “got frappe” shirts for all your milk ad campaign parody needs. As an extra bonus, there is live Jazz on Monday nights.

The service at Kolonaki is… casual. We met at the café and kind of hung around in the lobby-like area until a cute waitress walked by – we asked if we could sit upstairs and she seemed to not fully understand why we would think that waitressing duties include the seating of patrons. We sat at one of the tables overlooking Omonia (memories…) but the table was broken and dangerously wobbly so we immediately moved to another table. The joint was pretty empty – just us, a smoking woman (unfortunately for us and the law we mean smoking in the cigarette way not that hubba hubba way) and… a sleeping, possibly homeless guy. We had been kind of surprised that there was no smoking in Athens or Omonia what with how much the Greeks seem to enjoy chain smoking, but Kolonaki finally lived up to our hazy room stereotypes -- our waitress followed us upstairs and immediately offered us an ashtray. By the time we left the restaurant there were 6 other tables (including the now awake and smoldering (again, not in the good way) homeless guy) and only 2 were living on the right side of the New York Smoking laws.

The menu at Kolonaki was noticeably smaller than that of the other cafes that we’ve reviewed. As seems to be the norm, the offering was very dessert heavy – however it was close to dinner time and Brianna had heard that the “real” food at Kolonaki was pretty good so we decided to forgo the sugar rush. Brianna ordered another frappe ($3.50) and was educated by the waitress on the frappe options – medium (milk and two sugars) or sweet (milk and four sugars). Four sugars sounded like a lot so she went with the medium… Amy ordered an iced coffee ($3.25, strangely, hot coffee is only $1.95 – that ice has to be shipped all the way from Antarctica I guess). The waitress had a really hard time grasping the concept of “bring us our drinks and then we’ll order food” and refused to let us keep both menus but eventually we convinced her to go get the coffees.

Brianna found the “medium” frappe a little bitter, three sugars seems like it would be a happy medium. The ice coffee was… weird. I guess for the extra buck they felt obligated to jazz it up a bit. The result was Guinness-like—foamy on top and black on the bottom. It *looks* like it has steamed milk on the top but… foamy milk stirs into coffee, right? The coffee tasted fine but Amy wasn’t given any milk (outside of the possibly dairy based foam) so she felt the need to add extra sugar (8 instead of 4) to compensate.

For dinner Brianna decided on the European tuna salad sandwich (“fat-free” even though it has a ton of olive oil in it… I… don’t know.) ($6.95). Amy ordered the Caesar salad sans chicken which the waitress was surprisingly un-confused about... maybe there are Greek vegetarians after all ($5.95). Our food arrived fairly quickly, in comparison to the other cafes. The tuna salad sandwich, on pita bread, was accompanied by potato-chips (making the “European” food more American friendly one assumes), and the Caesar salad had pita on the side. Brianna’s fare was very good- the tuna salad had high-quality (aka tasty) capers. Amy’s salad was also quite yummy. The “homemade croutons” were crunchy and cheese-covered, and it was swimming in salad dressing. For other people this may be considered a negative, but Amy’s tendency towards excess is not limited to too much sugar in her beverages. After taking a nibble of Amy’s salad, Brianna suspected that it was drenched in Italian dressing (Whatever. Caesar was totally Roman).

And for the highlight of the review… the bathrooms were pretty basic, and on the second floor (ruining our basement-bathroom trend) and better equipped overall than those at Omonia. There were two single-person bathrooms (Our more adventurous readers could probably squeeze two (or more?) in there… *wink wink nudge nudge…*) with plenty of soap, toilet paper and paper towels for all. Speaking of trends, Mega-touch machines by the bathroom? We’ll be keeping you guys updated on that one.

Awesome Astoria Activities:

Broadway seems surprisingly devoid of fun activities that are not food-oriented (we assume that after leaving the café, you are full of caffeine goodness). You could get your hair done I suppose, or go to the dentist again. But we suggest walking off some of your calories with a trip to Steinway where you can also exercise your credit card at one of the many Payless Shoe Stores (do we really need *two* sources for plastic shoes within a block of each other???)

Food: 4
Service: 2
Ambiance: 3
Average Attractiveness of Staff: 2.5
Average Attractiveness of Patrons: 1.5 (hard to see them through the smoke, and the possibly homeless guy really dragged the numbers down)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What We've Gotten Ourselves Into

Just how many frappes have we commited to drinking? Our priliminary list:

Athens Cafe -- 30th and 32nd
Omonia Cafe -- Broadway and 33rd

To Do
Kolonaki Cafe -- Broadway and 33rd
Zodiac -- 31st and Newtown
Byzantine -- 31st and Newtown
Plaza Cafe -- 30th and 29th
Park Kafe -- 30th and 30th
Cafe Bar -- 36th and 32nd
Cavo Cafe -- 31st and 42nd
Grand Cafe -- 30th and 37th
Flo -- 30th and 38th
Lefkos Pyrgos -- 23rd at 31st
Avenue Cafe -- 30th and 36th
Santorini -- Steinways and ??
Galaxy -- 30th and 37th

This was off the top of our heads without any research at all (we're lazy.). Help us out folks -- post additional cafe suggestions in the comments!

Edited 12:45 pm: list updated with suggestions from comments

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Omonia Café – 33rd and Broadway

Omonia is located directly across the street from Café Kolonaki which makes it the perfect setting for a romantic comedy where the cute meet involves googly eyes being made through the traffic. Omonia has actually already had it’s 15 minutes of romantic comedy fame – they claim to have made the wedding cake for My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- it looks yummy and devoid of Windex in the pictures on the wall. There’s a second location in Bay Ridge Brooklyn at 7612 3rd Ave. The people watching potential is probably better than that at Athens as Broadway is a busier street – we particularly enjoyed the vehicle watching.

This café has no outside seating, though all of the floor to ceiling windows open up onto the street. There were some gorgeous trees outside with pink spring flowers on them. The tables inside are squeezed really close together and we found ourselves having to carefully maneuver in and out of our seats so as not to knock into other patrons, and the back of Amy's seat kept getting bumped. The clientele was much older than that at Athens Café though this might only be the difference between Tuesday at 6:30 in the evening and (non-Greek) Easter Sunday afternoon. A sign on one of the windows claimed that a piano player performed Friday Saturday and Sunday – we’re less concerned that we missed the promised music and more confused at the lack of a visible piano in the restaurant at all. If, as would seem is quite likely, we missed a guy miming a piano performance we’ll really be upset.

We were impressed with the menu which was once again huge and busting with tempting dessert-age. They apparently serve homemade ice cream and we saw a family close to us consume what looked like a delicious banana split. There were, however, no “L things” on the menu but after some investigatory work we discovered that they were hiding under the name “touloumba” so if you want fried dough in honey you may have to modify your order from “the L things” to “the T things” – Greek desserts demand flexibility.

When we started planning this project we had decided to order the same thing in every café we reviewed for comparison's sake, but Brianna gained a pound last week and Amy’s going to have a hard time downing hot coffee come July so we’ve already broken that rule (we’re rebels folks.). We ordered a Greek Coffee, an American Coffee Float (With vanilla ice cream), Kourambiedes (K things) and Galactoboureko (G things).

The Greek coffee (~$2.75) will be keeping Brianna up for the next week and a half. Most of you probably think of a liquid beverage when you hear the word “coffee” – you are not thinking outside of the mug. This black brew was the consistency of thick mud. The flavor was probably much like espresso with a lot of sugar in it – not bad really, if you like that sort of thing – Bri found it a bit overpowering.

The coffee float (~$4.00) looked amazing, but the coffee it was made with was very weak and the ice cream overly icy. Amy added a package of sugar to this concoction but that should probably reflect poorly on her, not the drink. She likes her sugar a bit too much.

The K things (~$1.95 for 2 cookies) were the standout -- these butter almond cookies covered in powdered sugar and sprinkled with rose water were divine. They were very crunchy and crumbly and covered you in powdered sugar when you bit into them – we like any dessert that leaves a trail so that people we meet on the street hours later will be jealous of our meal.

The G thing ($4.25) was a slab of vanilla custard surrounded by filo dough. This sounds like a good idea but in practice it didn’t feel like the taste would be worth the calories. The custard was kind of bland -- so much so that we think the flavor can only be described as vaguely sugary. The filo dough was soggy because it was sitting in honey, which ruined the potential smooth/crisp contrast that we had hoped for. We didn’t come anywhere close to finishing this.

I suspect that where Omonia excels is in pastries (The G thing notwithstanding) – the have 3 pastry cases and everything in them looked amazing as did the cakes staked up in the adjoining bakery.

The bathrooms were again located downstairs (is it too early to call this a trend?) but we a huge disappointment in comparison to Athens. They had germ-a-phobe ready toilets with the automatic plastic covers but they were broke, the soap dispensers (non-automatic) were empty and the whole room seemed less than clean.

Service was very slow-- after we were obviously done, we spent a good 20 minutes trying to flag down someone to bring us our check and watched the boys at the table next to us do the same when trying to pay theirs. The only plus that gave us was the opportunity to make a friend (hi Justin!). Amy finally made eye contact with a waitress and mimed the universal symbol for “we’ve been sitting here long enough for our butt cheeks to fall asleep, please bring us the check.” but she immediately forgot about us (again?) and we had to perform another round of charades in order to get out of there. If it had gone on any longer, Amy might have actually finished the G-thing out of boredom. We were very glad to have exact change.

Awesome Astoria Activities:

Omonia itself offers one of the best pastimes in the area – video games:

Sure you have to wedge yourself into a corner near the skeevy bathrooms but they’re 2D! Fuck that 1D bullshit.

Overall we kind of wished we were across the street.

Food: 2.5
Service: 1.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Average attractiveness of staff: 3.5
Average attractiveness of patrons: 2.5

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Athens Cafe --30th Ave and 32nd St.

It’s our first cafe review! And it’s only April! This is monumentous. Typically when we start projects we don’t get beyond the talking points. But here we are, early spring with the entire summer spanning before us and already we have honey covered dessert and coffee swimming in our tummies.

Our first cafe is Athens Café. It came with the highest recommendations of a clearly insane woman, so we were excited. We arrived at 6:30 and immediately got a seat by the window inside – outdoor seating was rather crowded but it was too cold out there for us anyhow. The crowd was predominantly 20-something males, most of whom appeared to have been sitting at the cafe for the last 5 hours. The cafe was quite trendy – airy, open, lots of windows and the only option for at least a block (no other Greek cafes in sight). There was a huge bar with a light-up stone wall to set off the beautiful beautiful bottles of booze. They were showing poker on the huge HDTV. Booze and gambling -- need we even finish this review?

The menu was a huge 4 pages; we choose to focus on Greek desserts b
ecause we enjoy the challenge of pronouncing things like Galaktoboureko and Loukoumades. We went with “the L things” which turned out to be fried dough covered in honey – YUM! We originally thought $7 a high price to pay for fried dough but the order contained roughly 45 lbs of greasy goodness so our wallets really can’t complain (our thighs on the other hand…).

To wash down our sugar rush Brianna ordered a Cafe Freddo ($4), Amy ordered a $3 cup of American coffee because she found the Freddo not sweet enough despite the fact that the milky liquid has reached sugar concentration – the American coffee was plenty sweet once she stirred in 3 spoonfuls of sugar (makes the fried medicine go down!). Brianna is our resident Greek expert (she spent a whole week there AND works with a Greek lady!) and she felt the Cafe Freddo was very authentic – frothy, creamy and caffeinated. Amy was hoping the American coffee would redeem itself by being “refill-a-rific” (tm Joe), but our hot-but-absent waitress did not provide any fill-a-rific opportunities.

The facilities (aka the john) were nice, if a bit hard to find—there are no obvious signs, and you have to go down stairs that are not easy to spot among the throng of tables. Once there however, all the amenities are automated—something that will please our germ-a-phobic readers, assuming that we will attract readers with debilitating psychological disorders who also love greek coffee and fried foods (every blog needs a target demograph!).

Certain unnamed entities have insinuated that there is a lack of fun and interesting activities in Astoria. So as a rebuttal we give you blog-bonus material: Amazing Astoria Activities (alliteration is catchy). Because the options are so numerous, we have decided to limit our suggestions to those which can be seen from the window of the cafe-of-the-day (rhyming is catchy too).

Today’s Amazing Astoria Activities:
Does a Cafe Freddo contain any actual coffee? Hmm... perhaps we should ask our local psychic:

No. Nescafe.

Caffeine makes you jittery, sugar gives you cavities… Astoria can help:

Overall: (in place of numbers, imagine cute icons of appropriate Greek Gods)
(All on a scale of 1-5)
Food: 4
Service: 2.5
Ambiance: 4
Average attractiveness of staff: 4.5
Average attractiveness of patrons: 3.5*

* Note that patron attractiveness rating may be skewed upwards by the presence of Amy and Bri in the cafe.

Astoria Cafe Challenge

Bri: There are an insane number of Greek cafes in Astoria.
Amy: Many across the street from each other
Bri: More than in Greece.
Amy: I wonder if we could go to them all this summer
Bri: the summer of your wedding?
Amy: I need a distraction.
Bri: the summer where you have to look hot and skinny in a pretty princess dress?
Amy: Yeah, sounds good.