>> Taverna Kos | Eat the World NYC

01 November 2018

Taverna Kos

All photos by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 01 November 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

For the first 12 years of its existence, the dining hall and kitchen at Pancoan Society Hippocrates was used exclusively by its members, who had started the social club back in 1996. “Coan” is someone from Cos, or Kos, the third-largest and second–most-populated island in the Dodecanese chain that sits only four kilometers off the coast of Turkey and another continent. As the name of the club may suggest, Hippocrates was thought to be from Kos, along with the founding members of this Astoria group that still meets in the building to this day.

When I first met Kostas Karagiorgis at the restaurant he started renting from the club 10 years ago, he was halfway down the block blowing fallen autumn leaves from the sidewalks of his neighbors. He was also a member of the club back then, but told me the space did not see that much use and saw good possibilities. Despite being open to the public since the very beginning a decade ago, most residents of Astoria were not aware of this and the restaurant’s customers were limited to the friends and family who heard about it through word of mouth.

The families who do come to eat are usually big and boisterous. Already-large tables are moved next to each other in the restaurant’s climate-controlled patio area so groups of more than a dozen can sit together for their meal. Conversations in Greek (and sometimes Italian due to its popularity with them as well) are enjoyable to other tables even if unintelligible because they are often punctuated with bursts of laughter.

Kostas, who goes by “Dino” to the other staff and regulars, may be around during the day hanging out and talking to customers, but when things get busy he jumps into the kitchen to help. On the occasion of one important sports match, fans of Greek’s most successful football club, Olympiacos, all arrived right at kickoff and filled up the interior space. This got the kitchen very busy, with Dino making sure it all ran smoothly until everyone was content and fed. He excused himself when his wife called a little later and needed his help at home, apologizing but making sure his patrons had what they needed. On certain days, his wife can also be found in the kitchen.

The menu runs the gamut of general Greek cuisine, but suggested orders keep you close to the sea. A big tray of xtapodi, or octopus (above), is visible inside on any given day, delivered fresh and ready for the restaurant’s most popular appetizer order. As with most Greek seafood, the grilled version is given a simple bath of oil and herbs but allowed to stand on its own freshness, and does not need more. I prefer the calamari (below) cooked similarly, but Dino will push towards the fried version, telling me, “Anything fried always tastes better.”

It is not uncommon (at least for non-Greeks) for an entire meal to consist of appetizers and salads, all of which are incredible and fresh here. A cold pikilia plate ($15) gets you a dish of each of its three meze: skordalia, a garlic dip; tzatziki; and spicy feta. Add in the Greek salad ($9) and a plate of fried cheese saganaki ($15, not shown) and your stomach might start pushing back before main courses are even imagined.

But take your cues from those rambunctious groups and round up as many friends as you can find so you can go further and sample the back of the menu, a collection of market-price seafood and a few meat dishes. Many types of fish are served whole and expertly cooked to your preference, such as the grilled porgy ($20 on one occasion, below). Big shrimp can also be cooked three ways, and a range of seasonal seafoods are on offer depending on the time of year. All entrees come with a side, the perfect opportunity to enjoy the lemon potatoes, although most tables stick with fries. If you can fit a meat into your order, the lamb chops ($28) are a bit pricey but excellent.

Leave a sliver of room in your belly for a slice of galaktoboureko (below), also made fresh and delivered daily. If you have eaten a full meal, a complimentary serving will arrive at the table, a token of goodwill. A large triangular piece of this custard-filled phyllo-dough “milk burek” will seem insurmountable at first, but goes down easily despite being so thick and dense.

Come back a few times and you start to notice that others are doing the same. Dino tells me that the customers are almost all regulars, and this is evident in the way the staff interacts with most of them as if they are old friends.

In the restaurant’s 10 years of operation, Astoria has changed as much as or more than any other neighborhood in the city, with rents skyrocketing and demographics changing. Many restaurants and businesses have closed or moved on, but a recent new wave of Greek immigration due to the country’s debt crisis is keeping the old Greek character of the neighborhood alive and flourishing.

Our original article from June 2018 is available here.

Pancoan Society Hippocrates Taverna Kos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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