Vegetarian-Friendly Mezze With a Warm Welcome at Gregory's 26 Corner
Astoria has plenty of Greek joints, enough so it seems that every third restaurant on its roomy streets is some Greek taverna, and you're never too far away from an oozy baklava or custard-filled slice of phyllo.
Many of these Greek spots are excellent, at least in parts of their menus. As Max so aptly put it in his recent review of another local taverna, "few Greek restaurants seem to get everything right; you'd do best to pick your favorite by their specialty."
The specialty at Gregory's 26 Corner is, resoundingly, its warm hospitality. This small, nautical-themed café named for its owner and its location at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 26th Street, is the kind of place that begins filling up with boisterous regulars around 5 p.m. A few glasses of house wine or ouzo later, they start to eat. And, if your experience is anything like mine was, they'll likely call you over to their table and encourage you to taste.
Luckily, it's not just the people that are special here. The vegetarian mezze are simple but solid, casual with a home-cooked ethos. As I almost always do when I visit a Mediterranean restaurant, I started with eggplant, this time in the form of Eggplant Spread ($6), a kind of halfway point between the chunky eggplant salad and the smooth baba ghanoush one often sees. This version was sweet and smoky in equal measure, with chopped green onions lending a bit of heat to the spread.
Next up was Tirokafteri ($6), a salty mashed feta cheese dip that's like the best pimento cheese you've ever eaten. Depending on the bite, the milky, buttery feta was sometimes crumbly, sometimes smooth, and roasted red peppers and jalapeños brought sweetness and spice. Slathered on the restaurant's warm bread or added to, well, everything else we ordered, this dish was a real winner.
The visual stunner of the meal was definitely our order of Stuffed Fried Peppers ($12), long, sweet green peppers stuffed with melty cheese and seemingly not fried at all but broiled under a hot flame. They tasted great, too, the soft cheese crunchy-brown in parts and scattered all over with bits of herbs and red pepper flakes.
There's one dish I order every time I eat Greek food: Roasted Lemon Potatoes. Humble-looking in the extreme, these potatoes can taste fantastic when cooked and seasoned right. Gregory's version ($5) didn't disappoint. Super soft yet fluffy in texture, the warm potatoes arrived in a veritable sea of lemony olive oil, which they drank in as they sat on the plate, becoming ever creamier, and their browned, crispy edges provided some crunch.
When the group of fellas seated in the dining room noticed me taking the photos for this piece, they demanded that I print out copies and come back to the restaurant to hang them on the wall. I definitely didn't need any prompting, and will return to Gregory's for the food—and conversation—soon.
About the author: Lauren Rothman once interned at Serious Eats and recently graduated from journalism school. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and check out her (many) food photos on Instagram.