By Suzanne Parker
While the debate rages on about whether or not the recession is drawing to an end, many of us are still watching our pennies. The prudent among us may eschew precious little platefuls of artfully arranged mouthfuls at extravagant prices, opting instead for restaurants that deliver generous portions of tasty, rib sticking food, with something left over for the “doggy” (or your next day’s lunch). Avli, on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, is an exemplar of this no nonsense approach with its hearty fare and affordable prices.
Avli, the self-proclaimed “little Greek Tavern,” deals in classic Greek fare with its emphasis on meat rather than seafood. It occupies a long narrow space that looks modern and freshly renovated, but is mostly unadorned. This plain restaurant makes no attempt to get by on its looks. The food is what will draw you, pure and simple.
We ordered the “Epilogi,” described as a combination platter of hot and cold appetizers. Epilogi? We were intrigued by the word, which sounds like an apology for hair removal. An online translation program translated it as “epilogue, a short chapter or section at the end of a literary work.” The matter was cleared up for us by John Koukounas, one of the restaurant’s owners and a Greek speaker who explained that it was Greek slang for an assortment.
Let them call it what they like, the cold appetizers were darned near perfect. Accompanied by a generous amount of warm, fresh pita triangles, we feasted on the platter of feta cheese drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano; the fluffiest of taramsalatas, pleasantly tart with a satisfying hint of fishiness; and skordalia, mashed potatoes with olive oil and plenty of garlic. An aggressively garlicky tzatziki yogurt and cucumber dip, which seemed to come gratis with all orders, was icing on the cake.
They were followed by a separate platter bearing three hot appetizers. The best of the trio was the keftedakia, traditionally seasoned Greek meatball triplets that had been fried, rendering their exteriors almost crunchy while sealing in maximum moisture and flavor. Grilled loukankiko, traditional Greek sausages, met our expectations easily. Grilled kalamarika (baby squid) was nicely seasoned, but a little tough and overdone.
What we liked about Avli’s moussaka was its inclusion of zucchini and potatoes along with the standard eggplant, meat and béchamel topping. That’s what elevated this Greek classic above standard-issue diner fare.
The soup of the day (choice of soup or salad comes with most entrees) was a very homemade-tasting lentil. We liked that the lentils retained their shape and texture within the broth rather than becoming mushy, a hallmark of their homemade-ness.
Rack of lamb is Avli’s priciest entrée, but ample for sharing. Our seven meticulously trimmed chops were very lean, seasoned well, and seared on the grill. We would have preferred that they be less well done, and advise that you make your preferences for doneness known whether asked or not. The quantity and quality of the meat makes this entrée a bargain.
A Greek meal calls for Greek pastries, and that call was answered with baklava and galaktobouriko. The baklava was loaded with almonds and walnuts and wrapped in thin, flaky phyllo. The galaktobouriko was filled with delicious custard, but the pastry was disappointingly soggy and unflavorful.
The Bottom Line
Avli is a neighborhood restaurant that pairs deliciousness with value. You can order parsimoniously and still leave with a full tummy, or go whole hog and not leave with an empty wallet. It’s a good bet for lunch too, with a full complement of Greek-style burgers, wraps, and sandwiches. Although they’ve been around for about two and a half years, they are still evolving. They are fine-tuning their menu and planning to open their backyard for outdoor dining in the spring. We expect more good things to come.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.”She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
38-31 Bell Blvd
Bayside, NY 11361
Price Range: Appetizers: $5-15, Entrees: $11-22
Cuisine: Traditional Greek
Setting: Minimally decorated, but fresh-looking
Service: Friendly, but lacked attention to detail
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Alcohol: Wine & beer
Takeout: Yes. Delivery & curbside pickup available.
Credit Cards: Yes
Noise Level: Bare walls and tile floors cause sounds to reverberate when busy.
Handicap Accessible: Yes