Recently, Jason and I were very generously invited for a press meal at Avlee Greek Kitchen. It turned out to be a little gem right off of the main strip in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, at 349 Smith Street. I am pretty excited to tell you about this meal, not only because of the food but because of the entire experience we had there.
Jason and I arrived at about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon after snagging a parking spot directly in front of the place… I love when that happens. We were warmly greeted by the host and seated in the light and bright space in front. It’s a small and cozy restaurant with an open kitchen, so you can be pretty confident in the cleanliness. Greek music is gently playing in the background, but not too loud.
The owner, Andrew, came out to welcome us and I knew instantly that this was going to be a special meal. His hospitality was excellent, and his excitement about his food – all recipes passed down from his family – was contagious. Andrew encouraged Jason and I to practice the pronunciations of the Greek words for all of the dishes. He explained the pride he feels when people come in and try to use his language because it feels like they “get what it’s all about.” His passion was really quite beautiful. Avlee Greek Kitchen boasts a pretty tremendous menu, and I am not all that familiar with Greek cuisine, so I was thankful that Andrew offered to send us out his favorite dishes and save us the torment of having to choose.
Before the photos, I’ll summarize each dish we tried:
- From the Kria Orektika (cold spread) section, Andrew sent out Fava Mani (basically a hummus), Tirokafteri (feta cheese, bell peppers, jalapeño, and cayenne), and Tzatziki (yogurt cucumber, dill, and garlic) with fresh warm pita bread. This was our first taste at Avlee, and each one was perfection. I was pleasantly surprised by the spiciness of the Tirokafteri – it’s not something I’d expect from Greek food, but like I said, I’m no expert. The hummus and tzatziki were both incredibly fresh tasting. The pita was delicate and light.
- Spanakopita (spinach, three cheese, cremini mushroom in phyllo) – this dish I’d heard of before! It was awesome. The phyllo was light and flakey and crispy, and not even a tiny bit greasy. The filling wasn’t the mushy soggy filling I’d had in crappy diners, but was well strained and packed with flavor.
- Keftethakia (beef and pork meatballs pan fried with tomato basil sauce) – while I loved this dish, Jason really loved it. The sauce. It’s so weird and magical. Andrew explained to us that his family is from Kalamata, Greece… like the olives. And the olives were quietly hidden inside the tomato sauce making it like a very mild puttanesca sauce. The meatballs themselves were tender, full of fresh herby flavors, and the perfect balance of protein and fat.
- Fava Fritters (chick pea, scallions, feta, herbs, and spices pan fried) – these were like little falafel balls from heaven. They were soft and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside – completely perfect.
- Htapodi (grilled tentacle of Mediterranean octopus) – I was hoping for a dish like this, as I always associate octopus with Greek food, and I love octopus. Jason and I agreed, this may have been the best preparation we’ve ever had, and it was so painfully simple. Just a perfectly grilled octopus, with that amazing char on the outside, and then the most tender meat on the inside… we were able to cut the generous portion with the edges of our forks. The octopus was seasoned with such a simple lemony oil that it seemed too easy, but there was just something special about it.
- Lavraki (grilled whole Mediterranean sea bass with lemon oil dressing) – this dish was pretty outstanding too. The fish was cooked so expertly well, with the skin crispy and packed with flavors (smokey to mustardy to lemony) and the meat of the fish melting in your mouth like butter. Jason confused himself when he compared it to being as satisfying of a piece of meat as a good steak. He snuck back into the bones of the fish multiple times to make sure he completely cleaned it out.
- From the sides: Gigandes (white beans baked in an onion tomato dill sauce), Spanakorizo (sautéed spinach, rice, onion, dill), and Horta Revithia (sautéed kale, roasted chick peas, shallots, chicken broth) – these reminded me of winter comfort food stews. They were all warm and packed with unusual flavors, with the Horta Revithia being the weirdest, but in a good way.
- Greek salad – this was exactly what you’d expect, with a nice little pickled pepper surprise mixed in. It was a good opportunity to try those magical olives all on their own, and they were as special as you’d hope.
- Baklava (walnuts and almonds wrapped in phyllo with honey syrup) – this was another dish I am familiar with, but was the absolute best version of it that I’ve ever had. Absolutely delicious.
- Galaktoboureko (vanilla past semolina layered with phyllo) – good luck pronouncing that one. But the embarrassment of butchering the word is far worth the insane yumminess of it. It’s this thick vanilla packed custard wrapped in phyllo with a light honey drizzle. It was almost like a rice pudding but without those clumps of rice, and with extra vanilla – you could see tons of the specks of crushed vanilla bean throughout it. And despite the honey drizzle, it was really perfectly not too sweet.
Here are the pictures of the beautiful food:
They offer some interesting Greek beverages, including some beers, but we stuck to good old red wine.
Overall, Avlee Greek Kitchen earned a rare five star Baconboozer rating. I don’t know if there is any other spot in New York that you can get Greek food this fresh or this full of love. So stop in, and do your best to pronounce the words – they’ll appreciate the effort, and you’ll appreciate being a part of their beautiful culture, even if it’s only for an hour or two.