March 19, 2008

Greek Cheese Overload and Cupcakes in Queens

BABIES
What the.

"Robyn, you need to take a picture of that sign!"

The sign in question that Lauren was referring to touted the mouthwatering offerings of baby lamb, baby goat, and baby pig. All babies, all the time.

I wasn't planning on whipping out my camera in the drizzling rain while on our way to Taverna Kyclades to meet up with Tristan for lunch, but it's not every day you read an awning that uses the word "BABY" so prolifically in relation to food. And you know how amusing the word "baby" is. Very amusing.

I will spare you a photo of what was hanging in the window, mostly because I didn't take one. The window was too fogged up to take a clear photo, but the image of the bulging blue eyes of whatever skinned animal that was hanging, its full length and pink meatiness displayed to passersby, is burned into my skull.

And then we dug into a delicious Greek meal!

bread with oil
Behold: Logs of Wheat

As soon as Lauren, Jones, Tristan and I sat down to lunch at Taverna Kyclades, we were presented with two large logs of bread. Toasted. Sprinkled with sesame seeds. Drizzled in olive oil. And sitting in a pool of more olive oil. One bite of the warm, soft, thinly-crusted bread made me wonder why I had never before come across this obviously superior way of serving bread. This is the way it should be: pre-soaked in fat.

If you finish the bread, they'll automatically replenish your table with even more stomach-stuffing carbs. Let that be a warning to you. Or something to strive for.

"What's horta?" asked Tristan. He had his eyes on the salmon steak lunch special that came with either rice, lemon potatoes, or horta.

"You could ask what it is," I suggested.

"NO, LET'S JUST ORDER IT!!!"

"Are you su-"

"YES!"

His eyes lit up with glee, as they tend to do when he gets excited. Tristan isn't 100% human; he is partially made up of candy and Lite-Brites. These components become apparent in his glee-filled states.

salmon
Salmon!

So it turns out horta is a pile of something green and leafy. We couldn't tell exactly what kind of green leafy substance it was, but it definitely tasted grassy. Not really bitter, but an approximation of what I would imagine a fistful of lawn would taste like. I didn't love it, nor hate it.

The thick salmon steak was simply cooked with little seasoning, which is my favorite form of salmon and pretty much the same way my mom cooked it while I was growing up. Moist, tender, sweet, fatty goodness—I wouldn't ask for anything more.

FRIED CHEEEEZ
Cheez

I ordered the saganaki (fried cheese) lunch special with the intention of balancing out the nutrients (or lack of) with bits of Tristan's salmon and greenery. In the end, I nearly OD-ed on the cheese—thick, rectangular slabs of salty cheese, generously battered and deep-fried—and even with Tristan's help, it was too much food. Of course, it tasted great—like five fried mozzarella sticks in one—I just couldn't get it all into my belly. My stomach appears to stop digestion when faced with gratuitous amounts of melty, gooey cheese. Thank god it came with a salad of lettuce, cucumbers, raw onions, and tomato chunks to make me feel mildly healthy as I swallowed mouthfuls of coagulated milk.

Jones and Lauren fried calamari SHRIMPIES
Jones and Lauren, concentrating on face stuff-age

I liked Jones' fried calamari, which doesn't really say anything since I almost always love fried calamari, assuming it's not tough and rubbery. This was...not tough or rubbery, just good ol' tender rings of lightly breaded, deep-fried squid. In all my experiences of eating squid, this is the only way to make it taste good. I probably don't like squid; I just want the fried bits.

His fried calamari were accompanied by large wedges of lemon potatoes, or "potatoes injected with lemon juice." Seriously lemony.

I didn't try Lauren's grilled shrimp, but I think she liked it. Because she kept eating it. That tends to be an accurate sign of palatability.

Martha's Country Bakery
Martha's Country Bakery

On the way to Taverna Kyclades we had passed Martha's Country Bakery, which aside from exuding a warm visual presence also blasted us with the potent aromas of "baked" and "sugary." And this was from across the street. If that wasn't enough reason to go in, it also got an enthusiastic "GO THERE, YOU WILL LOVE IT!" from my very food-minded friend, Carol. (I should also mention that Taverna Kyclades was recommended by my other uber food-minded friend, Joyce! Fooding is a lot easier to plan when you have people who will do it for you.) Yummy smells and personal recommendations tend to result in good times.

In this case, the good times came in the form of "baked goods overload."

cookies
Huge cookies

There were cookies.

bakery case! CAKE carrot cake of beauty
CAAAKE!

There were cakes.

cupcakes! cupcakes! cupcakes!
Oh my god, cupcakes

And adorable cupcakes.

bakery!
IT'S EVERYWHERE

And scones, and muffins, and breads, and tarts, and oh my god why can't I live here?

pistachio cupcake
Pistachio cupcake

While I was tempted by the carrot cake bathed in an angelic halo of light, I sprung for the dainty pistachio cupcake. I can't recall whether the frosting possessed much pistachio flavor (a smidgen, at least, in addition to the "green"), but the cupcake itself was exceptional. Martha's cupcake had that perfect combination of sweet, moist, light, fluffy, non-crumbly, buttery, and vanilla-tinged flavor going on, my favorite part of which was the tender crumb that didn't fall apart with every bite and shower cake bits onto my lap. And although I felt like the smooth sugar-loaded frosting shaved away my tooth enamel with every bite, I still enjoyed it. (The frosting, not the sensation that my teeth were writhing in pain. Not that the cupcake wasn't worth the sacrifice of potential tooth decay—it totally was.)

spinach pie
Spinach pie

Tristan highly approved of his spinach pie. Having skipped trying the spinach part, I at least approved of the phyllo dough portion, which I could pick off the pie in crispy sheets of butter-soaked goodness.

Tristan and Lauren
Tristan replenishes his caffeine levels. Lauren ate an M&M cookie. And I probably wanted another cupcake, but that would've been overkill.

If the world would just saturate itself with bakeries like Martha's Country Bakery, I'm pretty sure we could wipe out depression and melancholy.

Addresses

Taverna Kyclades
3307 Ditmars Blvd
Long Island City, NY 11105

Martha's Country Bakery
3621 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY 11105

Posted by roboppy at 1:04 AM

Tags: Astoria, bakery, cupcakes, Greek, Jones, Lauren, Martha's Country Bakery, Queens, Taverna Kyclades, Tristan

Comments (30)

Gnnnnghngh. Fried calamari....droooool.....

Posted by: Su-Lin at March 19, 2008 6:14 AM [#]

Oh hooray! you finally came to astoria! i'm so excited. the taverna is delightful- we have lots of awesome restaurants here though.

i'm surprised you didn't get the gelato at Martha's, though. it's pretty killer.

Posted by: a lover and a fighter at March 19, 2008 6:14 AM [#]

That bakery looks amazing! I'm putting it on my list! Mmm endless cases of cake...

Posted by: Jeanne at March 19, 2008 11:42 AM [#]

As an Asian, I would guess that it's somewhat hard for you to digest dairy, no? I'm only half-Asian and I'm somewhat lactose intolerant. Though the deep fried cheesiness sounds good, my stomach would freak out if I ate it without some sort of lactose pill thingie.

Posted by: Clare at March 19, 2008 12:27 PM [#]

Ro -
I once made this huge tray of baklava when I was still in culinary school. Unfortunately, not many of my classmates got to share in the buttery, syrupy goodness because they'd already stuffed themselves with spanikopita. Let's just say that I vegged quite happily in front of the television that night.

- S

PS: "All babies, all the time" reminds me of an Eddie Izzard sketch -- he's saying that America is the land of opportunity... one could go around putting babies on spikes if they wanted! Something of that nature. :P

PPS: Smelling of baked things all the time isn't all it's cracked up to be... my friend's cat freaking LOSES IT when I walk in if I've been baking. That buttery smell sticks on your hands, man. I'm in the process of developing some sort of Nerf gun net thing to shoot at it the next time I see it lunging at me.

Posted by: Steph at March 19, 2008 1:03 PM [#]

Tristan is partly candy and LiteBrites? Girl, we just need you up on stage somewhere, dazzling the world.

And please recall that the horta is also that amazing, rock-burrowing creature from the original Star Trek: "No kill I." An appropriate sentiment upon entering that glorious bakery, I imagine.

Posted by: Aunt Jx at March 19, 2008 2:04 PM [#]

oooh! was the cheese haloumi??? from your description it sounds like it...

i just had it for the first time this past weekend (not battered and fried, just sauteed in a pan with olive oil), and it's my new favorite thing!

Posted by: Zach@MidtownLunch at March 19, 2008 2:18 PM [#]

They need a restaurant called Three Kinds of Babies. You'd be all over that in a New York minute.

And who does not love a fistful of grass? mmm... lawn.

Posted by: Danny at March 19, 2008 2:28 PM [#]

Those flower decorated cake pictures are mesmerizing...
completely crazy bakery!

Posted by: Mickjagger at March 19, 2008 2:59 PM [#]

" ... my favorite part of which was the tender crumb that didn't fall apart with every bite and shower cake bits onto my lap."

Cake rain! I don't like that either. It's why I sometimes priss out and eat my cupcakes with a fork, especially if there are white carpets or dryclean only slacks involved.

I was at a food festival last weekend where one restaurant offered baby lamb. The chef at the booth asked if I liked babies, and I replied, "only if they pop in my mouth when I bite down!" Dunno what possessed me--probably a combo of your blog influence and the fact that I was a volunteer and didn't have to pay for a ticket in. The lamb was awe-mazing!!

Those bakery shots look even better. Like ... maw-mazing ...

Posted by: Julie at March 19, 2008 3:54 PM [#]

Candy and Lite-Brites??! Best. description. ever.

Posted by: Coco at March 19, 2008 6:24 PM [#]

Mmm.. bread.. fried cheese.. and CUPCAKES! This seems like the best day ever, at least food-wise. Martha's Country Bakery looks like it´s been sent straight from heaven! I am so jealous of your life.

Posted by: Maja at March 19, 2008 6:28 PM [#]

Su-Lin: Gnnnnghngh x 1000!

a lover and a fighter: YES, I made it! And in the rain!

GELATO, WUT? WUT. I didn't see gelato. Now I will cry.

Jeanne: And apparently THEY HAVE GELATO THAT I DIDN'T SEE. All the more reason to return.

Clare: Surprisingly, I think I'm not lactose intolerant! I used to think I was but dairy doesn't make me feel sick; I just get full. Like what happens when I eat too much of anything, just that my cheese capacity is lower than, say, pork.

Mm, pork.

Steph: Oh my god, I want baklava. In one my cooking classes all we did was mess around with phyllo dough. All I remember is slathering loads of butter on every layer and baking it to buttery..awesomeness.

Wow, Eddie Izzard was right. I put babies on spikes any chance I get.

And your friend's cat...it should looove you!

Aunt Jx: We need to pop HIM on stage. So he can shine brightly..and rainbow-ly..

A horta is a wut? Now I know. ...YAAY!

Zach: I'm not sure what cheese it was, but it may have been haloumi! Or something similar! Eeh. I didn't think to ask, haha...fail.

Danny: There's your idea for your future restaurant! I'd also go with Three Kinds of Pork. Or Three Kinds of Baby Pork.

Grass does smell nice. Taste is a different matter.

Yann: They don't make em like that in France!

Julie: Ahh I hate cake rain! So sad. All those little cake bits you can't eat. :(

Haha, that's a great response. I don't know if I would be as bold to say that. But I'd think it.

Coco: And so true!

Maja: It would've been better if it hadn't rained! :( Boo to damp feet. Martha's made it so awesome though.

Posted by: roboppy at March 19, 2008 10:33 PM [#]

Mmmm....bakery goods. I'm so jealous, you wouldn't believe the craphole that passes for a bakery in my town...the sweets taste like they were made at a wal-mart bakery and they have the most boring, tiniest selection.

Posted by: DoughGirl at March 19, 2008 10:40 PM [#]

Roboppy: Yay! We always crave for what we don't have at home!
José Bové, an activist so famous in France for dismantling a MacDonald's and fighting against junk and genetically-engineered food confessed one day that he had great memories of his youth-trips to the US with a lot of delicious ice-cream and all those creamy american cakes...

Posted by: Mickjagger at March 19, 2008 10:53 PM [#]

I live so close, yet never even heard of this bakery! I'm always so focused in Manhattan! The cupcakes look so adorable!

Posted by: cakewardrobe at March 20, 2008 11:23 AM [#]

**clapclapclap**** glad you like :D Shouldda told you to buy a blueberry banana loaf back---its FANTABULOUS...coworkers love it :D DIdn't know they served sspinach pie?!?! Oh and their custard pie is good.

u can live with me :D It closes at 11pm! And St Honore's bakery opens at 6am!! HOORAH!

Posted by: Carol at March 20, 2008 1:08 PM [#]

Hi there! Nice to read you had such an enjoyable Greek meal. Now 'horta' are dandelion greens, though sometimes the word can be used to refer to all types of wild bitter greens.

If you'd like to take a hand at creating some Greek food, you just might find something of interest on my Greek recipe blog: http://greekgourmand.blogspot.com/

Be Well,

Sam Sotiropoulos

Posted by: Sam Sotiropoulos at March 20, 2008 8:02 PM [#]

DoughGirl: :( I wonder if a crappy bakery is worse than no bakery. ...Maybe... :( SAD FACES EVERYWHERE.

Yann: HAHA YES, American is awesome for things like that. I do love a nice slab of American-style cake.

cakewardrobe: Oh man, you better go there now. I wish it were in Manhattan!

Carol: omg I love banana loaf. Of any sort. Yes. AND CUSTARD PIE WHAT?

OKAY CAN I LIVE WITH YOUU?! No seriously, is there any vacancy? I should move out.

Sam: Thanks for the info! Maybe I will be brave enough to try cooking Greek food someday. Right now I'm comfortable...baking things...and boiling water. Heeeh.

Posted by: roboppy at March 20, 2008 11:19 PM [#]

you forgot to mention the greek bakery that vanished into thin air!

and yes, i did enjoy that shrimp.

Posted by: Lauren at March 21, 2008 1:19 PM [#]

I've never really been excited at the prospect of eating Greek food, but your descriptions and photos of Tavernas makes me think I'm about due for another trip to NY!

Posted by: Wheeler at March 21, 2008 3:04 PM [#]

hi, i'm lauren's fashion blogger friend. i kept seeing your name in various posts of hers, so i decided to finally check out your blog...and i'm hooked! i want fried calamari NOW. love the way you write. this post is the best...cheese+baked goods=heaven.

Posted by: dreamecho at March 21, 2008 6:40 PM [#]

You are so bad, now me want cupcakes, baklava, fried cheese and calamari!!!! I really do look forward to your new post each time but I do hate you for igniting that deep burning desire to eat those yummylicious food you blog about. Oh, well! It's gonna be a cupcake, baklava, fried cheese and calamari-filled weekend! Happy Easter!

Posted by: reese at March 21, 2008 8:38 PM [#]

Lauren: Oh yeah...that was sad. Missing bakery! Or maybe the rain rotted our brains. Er...hm...

Wheeler: THE CHEESE EXCITES YOU!!!

dreamecho: Thanks for visiting! Cheese and squid bits and cupcakes, all part of a balanced diet.

reese: Happy Easter to you too! It's my job to ignite those cravings. Bwahahaa.

Posted by: roboppy at March 21, 2008 11:52 PM [#]

To answer your question about the "horta" it looks like it's the most common of Greek wild greens, Vlita or what we know as Amaranth.

As for your spinach pie...us Greeks call that Spanakopita and unfortunately, it looks like mass-produced phyllo was used on that pie in the photo.

I can, however show you phyllo made from scratch at my blog.

Posted by: Peter at March 28, 2008 9:18 AM [#]

You missed out by not having dessert at Taverna. When you go at dinner, they bring it automatically and it is creamy heaven in a dish. You'll have to come back to Astoria!

Posted by: Erin at March 28, 2008 5:57 PM [#]

Peter: Thanks for the info!

Looking at your blog now...I hadn't seen phyllo made from scratch before, that's neat to see.

Erin: Waah creamy heaven? Is that the real name? ;) Sounds good. I wish I hadn't felt so full, but I did want to save my belly for bakeries!

Posted by: roboppy at March 30, 2008 1:09 PM [#]

Perhaps the healthiest thing you had there was a dish you skipped over. Over a ladolemono sauce (mix olive oil with lemon juice together in right proportions and shake, let stay for a few), perhaps just a hint of salt, they are an acquired taste but extremely good for you: horta. During WWII, many suffering Hellenes managed to survive thanks to horta; exactly because they were fully aware of their nutritional value. But what are these "greens"? While in theory horta can be any variety of usually wild or other types of radish, the most common (by far) type used in this dish is endives. Yes, they sell them at good supermarkets and they are extremely healthy, great against cancer. Buy them, wash them, boil them, add the ladolemono sauce and that's it. An easy and very healthy side dish... Not to mention the great fun you'll have when the person at the counter gives you a blank look, while they are mentally trying to figure out what "endives" means ;)

Posted by: Pi at May 4, 2008 3:40 PM [#]

Pi: Oh, I did try the horta! Not a lot of it though. Thanks for letting me know how easy it is to make.

Posted by: roboppy at May 4, 2008 8:21 PM [#]

FYI- horta are actually dandelions. Yes, that weed. I live right near Martha's, and even though it may smell delish, I'm sorry to say that even Walmart baked goods taste better than that crap. I worked for 8 years in a bakery and martha's stuff is full of preservatives. I once bought their bread pudding, and the bloody thing was RAW inside. I'll keep my St. Honore's ( possibly the most overlooked bakery in Astoria) you can keep your Martha's yuppie-kingdom. Next time you're here though, try Agnanti, near the end of Ditmars at the corner of 19th Street, which happens to be 10 times BETTER than Kyklades.

Posted by: Astorian at July 6, 2008 9:50 PM [#]

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