By Suzanne Parker
When current events draw our attention to a particular geographic location, our gut reaction (literally) is to start contemplating the native cuisine. While others might be obsessing over the financial or political implications of Greece’s economic woes, we start wondering whether they will increase the number of Greek émigrés to Queens, and what effect that will have on the number and quality of Greek restaurants in Queens.
Those thoughts catapulted us out the door to Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna, an authentic Greek hideaway in the depths of Astoria.
Here, you could be in Athens or some other Greek city, sitting in an outdoor café with some not-so-young Greek men who look like they seldom leave their table. Although there are tables to be had in the small, dim interior, outdoors is the place to be, watching the world go by. Even in marginal weather, the streetside tables are fitted with a vinyl enclosure, extending the viability of dining nominally alfresco.
This taverna serves a range of regional Greek specialties, split about evenly between turf and surf. No attention grabbing innovations here, just time-honored dishes expertly executed. If there is a signature to their culinary style, it would be the ability to flawlessly achieve crunchy exteriors with lush, juicy interiors — no mean feat.
Grilled octopus illustrates 26’s deft singed-to-succulent ratio. Like most of their apps, it’s rather hefty as a starter for a singleton, but perfect for sharing. And speaking of sharing, the cold appetizer platter, with its quartet of taramosalata (salmon roe dip), tzatziki (garlicky yogurt & cucumber), tirokafteri (spicy cheese spread), and melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) is perfect for beginning your meal or lingering over a bottle of one of the excellent Greek wines served here. The standout for us was the eggplant which is liberally studded with bits of raw garlic. The platter comes piled high with quartered pita, although it’s also tasty with the unusual slightly whole wheat baguette in the bread basket. Greek salad is also reliable here, and generous with the feta, although our dining partner lamented the absence of anchovies, which have become a rarity on Greek salads.
For a wallet-friendly meat meal, try the biftekia, the Greek answer to Salibury steak. Ground beef, seasoned in the traditional Greek way with onions, oregano and mint, it can be had plain or with an internal layer of feta cheese. Sort of an inside-out cheeseburger. It comes on a platter with an assortment of purposefully placed vegetables and your choice of fries or lemon potatoes. Opt for the lemon potatoes, the Greek standby. Like so much else on the menu, the biftekia is a counterpoint of juiciness and crunch.
Grilled fish is a surefire winner here. “Fish of the day” is likely to be a multiple choice question. We chose branzino, also known as Mediterranean seabass, a fish generally regarded as sustainable. Again, the success of simple preparation with olive oil, herbs and lemon rests on skill at the grill, and that’s what they’ve got here in abundance. It comes only with a sprinkling of herbs and a lemon wedge, so go for one of the sides.
Our complimentary dessert was ravini, a semolina pudding soaked in syrup. No other desserts were offered.
The Bottom Line
There are so many good reasons to visit Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna: the feeling you’ve been transported to Athens, the wonderful food and the modest prices. If you really want a bargain, you can order a side dish with an appetizer for only an additional $2 instead of the usual $5. Now there’s an austerity measure no one can argue with. Just remember to bring cash as they do not take credit cards.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
26-02 23rd Ave
Long Island City, NY 11105
Price Range: Appetizers $6-13, Entrees: $7-22
Cuisine: Regional Greek
Setting: Tiny taverna with limited outdoor seating
Service: Friendly, efficient.
Hours: Lunch & Dinner daily
Alcohol: Greek wine 7 Beer
Credit cards: No
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes