Greek food has become all Greek to me over the years. I used to frequent the Greek kitchens of Hell’s Kitchen like Uncle Nick’s and the aptly named The Greek Kitchen for many years. But a combination of newer, more exciting neighborhood offerings, along with their inability to cook meats to the proper temperature consistently, contributed to an abrupt stop. Then there was Elia in Bay Ridge, a family favorite for years, that generally delivered, albeit with a heftier cost and a bigger Mediterranean emphasis. And since we go to Europe more often than Astoria, there’s a better chance for us to eat octopus in Santorini than Queens. Avlee Greek Kitchen, a little dinette in Carroll Gardens felt like a taste of Astoria in Brooklyn
It starts and ends with the boss. As with any household I suppose. I just finished all my chores for today, and I’m given the green light to watch first week of Football and write to you fine folks about Avlee. Multi-tasking. Well I still have to take out the garbage and take out the dishes from the dishwasher but its too soon for that. Thankfully I havent quite graduated from putting the dishes inside the dishwasher. Apparently I’m doing it all wrong
Andrew Poulos who runs the show at Avlee was practically born with a spatula inside a Greek kitchen. Andrew grew up in Bay Ridge where the closest thing to Greek food in the 70’s, and 80’s was the Greek Diner. I know because I was there as well for much of that, visiting the same Greek diners. Nowadays we just call them diners. Andrew spent much of his youth in Brooklyn Heights in his father’s restaurant. One thing that separates people like Andrew from the more famous chefs out there who went to culinary schools and worked in the trendiest kitchens, is a lifetime of experience in how to connect to the customer. You can tell much from talking to him, and you can tell even more from talking to his relaxed and happy staff.
The comfortable room is small and simply decorated, with the open kitchen spreading on one side. The menu reads like a typical Greek eatery with all the usual suspects. Except that in this case everything is prepared with special care and the absolute best ingredients they can get. Avlee after all, means “Garden”, and much of the ingredients come from Andrew’s own garden. Avlee doesnt have a freezer.
We started with the classic spreads. A trio of Tzatziki, Hummus, and Tirokafteri (feta, bell peppers, jalapeno, cayenne) which stole the show with its wonderful front-end heat. The Greek chunky hummus made me momentarily forget that I belong to creamy camp (sounds like a summer camp for fat kids). We liked the Tiropita, like mini flaky “bourekases” filled with feta and eggs. One of my favorite Mediterranean staples is stuff (figs, olives, dates) wrapped with cured meats, and here the figs stuffed with feta and wrapped with prosciutto delivered an enticing sweet and savory combination. The prosciutto gave it a nice oomph.
The octopus should tell you everything you need to know about this place. Instead of dressing it with heavy dose of romesco, chorizo, greens and/or potatoes as so many do, what you got here is the bare bones in its purest form. A gorgeously thick tentacle, perfectly tenderized and charred with a light dressing of olive oil, capers, and mustard seeds. Fresh as if hours before it was swimming near the coast of Portugal minding its own business. One of the better Octopuses as of late (bested more popular spots like Aurora a few days prior). Click on the picture for the full affect.
No complaints about the main course either. A whole grilled Branzini I couldnt cook better myself (I try and try). It was accompanied by two sides not pictured. A Kale and Chickpeas salad which I liked more than Mrs Z. And Gigande, those tender large beans baked with onion and tomato, tasted like a distant dry cousin of the sickest borscht on the planet. Finished off with a a fine Baklava. I’m not Baklava’s biggest fan even though I love everything nuts and honey but this one was satisfying.
In full disclosure, the circumstances of this review are different than my regular posts. I was invited to Avlee by Andrew for a comped meal in exchange for a review. As I mentioned back via email, a review would follow only if the meal is good and worthwhile to write about, as I seldom write negative reviews. Thankfully, any unpleasantness was easily avoided after a very enjoyable meal. Everything I wrote is true, including my chores.
Avlee Greek Kitchen
349 Smith St (2nd/Carroll), Brooklyn