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Jan 8, 2004 11:31 PM

Uncle Georges in Astoria

  • j

I monitor Chowhounds every so often for something that merits checking out.I had read good and bad reviews on Uncle George's so throwing caution to the wind I decided to check it out.My family and I had driven 500 miles from Toronto for a N.Y vacation and we were looking forward to a night in Astoria and and dinner at Uncle George's.Without dragging this out any further,let me just say that the food was Dreck.They had no chicken souvlaki left(at9PM)so on the waiter's(A story in itself---had the personality of a wet shmata)advice my wife and I had a half of a roasted chicken and my kids had spagetti.I've tasted canned spaghetti a 1000 times better then the crap they served and the roasted chicken was dry...devoid of any moistness--it must have been cooked in a kiln oven.To be fair,the after dinner mint and the toothpick were way above average.A side note:a couple of days later, in flushing,we had souvlaki off of a lunch cart.The food was infinetly better at a fraction the cost.

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  1. When one thinks of all the good Greek restaurants nearby why Uncle George's. It's much like dining at the Olive Garden in midtown Manhattan with so many fine Italian restaurants nearby. I had just one meal at Uncle George's. Never again.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Bill C

      I like it, even though it's on the NYMag and TONY lists. There's plenty of below averge stuff, but if you get the dishes Americans don't like, you'll do fine. I go twice a year for the Kokoretzi (sheep's intestine stuffed with organ meats). A cholesterol bomb, but I'd rather die happy. If you get a roast chicken right off the rotisserie and use the Greek amount of lemon juice, it's also great.

      The bakery catty-corner across the intersection makes decent, diabetes-triggering baklava.

      1. re: KRS

        I had awful, dried-out kokoretsi there last year. I thought I'd just ordered wrong, that the place was better for dishes like souvlaki or moussaka. Perhaps not.

        I'm going to stick with Stamatis or Aliada for the basics.

        1. re: KRS

          I had some good fried smelts there once. But I've also had some really mediocre meals. I think the prices are what's attractive.

          1. re: Kerry

            Cheap prices and it's open 24 hours. I can see Uncle George's from my window. And though I haven't eaten there in years, I'm happy to know it's there just in case there's a 4am emergency which can only be solved with Greek food.

            But I've heard good things about the Greek dinner at Astoria Blvd and 31st St. (NE corner of the multilane mess) And I assume they're open 24 hours too.

            The bakeries aren't quite kitty-corner. They're a block down at 33rd St. And you should try the Touloumbakia at Omonia. They're little honey/syrup soaked deep fried sticks of dough. They're not crunchy, but they have a little texture on the outside. Meanwhile the inside bursts with overly sweet soaked doughy fluff. They're in a tray in the window and speak to me whenever I walk buy. I try not to talk back when I'm alone among strangers.

            1. re: photis

              the greek diner -- you talking about neptune diner?

              it's pretty blah, though it's been about 2 years since i ventured inside.

      2. What a pity you didn't ask or check the board for good Greek in the last few months. Stamatis if better, and Agnandi is a wonderful experience off the beaten path on Ditmars and 19th Street. The outdoor patio (plastic enclosed and heated for smokers) and the burning stove in the corner and the unusual dishes, some Greek dishes from Turkey where part of the owner's family is from. The Aegean pasta (with salmon, mussels, shrimp and feta) is fantastic. I've also loved the leek pie special, the real Greek salad, the desserts (superior to the freebies at other places), the taramosalata, the bread, the yogurt. It's my new favorite. Oh yes, and the stuffed romano lettuce special in avgolemono. Everything is very fresh and perky tasting, all made to order.

        1. Uncle George's is good for one thing: cheap, crappy Greek food at 4 in the morning. Beyond that, S'Agapo and Stamatis just a couple of blocks away provide excellent greek food for about twice the price.

          1. I am so so sorry you had to experience uncle george's. My experiences have been not awful but by no means good. Can anyone explain why this place is packed even at respectable diner hours? And it can't just be the price...My lord for the same cost one could visit djerdan (sp?), Viva el mariachi, heck any slouvaki stand. (please excuse my sp)

            12 Replies
            1. re: kellyc96

              Quite frankly, most Greeks are not very adventurous eaters. So if you won't eat any other food but Greek, then the question is where do you eat? The place is cheap, for one.

              And a lot of the better Greek restaurants don't have a lamb roasting on a spite nearly as often as Uncle George's does. While other Greek places never have it or maybe just on weekends. Maybe that's why. Roasted lamb is good. Uncle George's has one most every night, I think. If they do that well (do they?), or at least don't mess it up, that alone is more than enough reason to go there.

              The other thing I notice as I walk by is that a lot of the older Greeks are eating the small fried fish. Maybe that's a good dish.

              But mostly I think that for a lot of Greeks, Uncle George's represents (for better and for worse) the food they grew up with. Maybe it's like an urban, Greek, Denny's. Greek-American comfort food. Brought over by immigrants in the 1920s. In the old country based on seasonal produce and fresh ingredients. Here, most people grew up with canned peas, overcooked vegetables, and well-done meat. But even that can be part of a good meal if there is nice olive oil, a side of good feta, and a glass or four of retsina.

              1. re: Photis
                Natasa Sevoleva


                Well said.

                1. re: Photis

                  Not responding re your thoughtful comments on Uncle George's but the analogy to Denny's is pitiful. Simple traditional american cooking is not corporate chain fast food and is not well represented at Denny's.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I don't say that Uncle George's is as bad as Denny's (even those who hate Uncle George's would have to concede that it is leagues better than Denny's). But just think of how many things these seemingly dissimilar places *do* have in common:

                    They both poorly represent the simple and traditional cuisine they serve, they've been around for a while, serve bad to mediocre food, have no surprises on the menu, claim to serve high quality food prepared to order but really push low prices, have a large cliental even with..., ...close proximity to better restaurants serving the same dishes, have arguably similar names meant to evoke something folksy, and appeal to drunk people at 4AM when everything else is closed.

                    At the very least, it's a creative analogy.

                    1. re: jen kalb
                      Natasa Sevoleva

                      Neither is Greek food at Uncle George's. Or ANY other place at all in NYC. At least it is an eatery, not a 'restaurant' and it makes no claims of any ethereal experiences, just regular food for regular people, perhaps not the chowhound set.
                      After meeting a friends roommate who waitrons there, I have had some of the best Astoria style Greek food in a very very long time. That person, and all the waitron in there (and elsewhere) serve to there own, unfortunately. If you know them, or are a regular (perhaps), you will dine much better than the average walk in off the street.

                      Stamatis is pitiful taxicab fare, S'Agapo is a joke at best, Pinocchio is the worst souvlaki/gyro in all of NYC, please do not visit OPA! Tony's Souvlaki, Aliada is a nice try if only for the Siftalia (the only thing worth ordering), Zenon is in a twilight zone Zone, and Athens cafe has the best Haloumi Lountza sandwich (and Frappe coffee) around!

                      Agnandi, as I tried it, is ok, but needs MUCH improvement. It can be done, as they are capable in that kitchen of turning out some ok stuff. They just have to concentrate on freshness and fresh prepared food and not so much on the quick and easy pre-prepared toss in microwave oven and slap on plastic plate service. Or the simple grill and serve. Prices are reasonable as compared to some others (who at best suffer from the same laziness and unprofessionalism).

                      Taverna Kyklades is for plain grilled fish alone. Anything else there is...

                      Which brings us back to Uncle George’s and their wonderful Skordalia...

                      1. re: Natasa Sevoleva

                        In defense of Agnadi (which is all I seem to comment on on this board these days), I think it's terrific. I've only ever ordered meze, however. A lot of meze are sit-around-then-reheat items anyway--what're they supposed to do, make each cypriot olive pita a la minute? They get huge props for hand-rolling their phyllo.

                        With every Greek place (even in Greece), it all depends on what you're hungry for--it seems unfair to expect one restaurant to satisfy all your Greek cravings: meze at Agnadi; a grilled fish, a dish of tzatziki and a big salad at Kyklades; heavier casseroles and grilled stuff at Zenon; and so on.

                        1. re: Zora
                          Natasa Sevoleva

                          You are correct. I do not wish to expect that each restaurant serve a wide range of Regional Greek Cuisine. I would hope, at best, that they would offer some tastes of Greek cuisine they excel in, perhaps. Even then, with only a couple of good dishes on the menu, it might be worth a return trip.

                          I want very much to like Agnandi. Nice looking place. It was nice looking under the "Taverna on The Park" name/ownership as well. It is a taverna. Something that takes me a while to get used to perhaps, as I am not a fan of tavernas. But todays Astoria Greek is Tavernas only, with few exceptions.

                          I dined at Agnandi on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. A party of five of us walked in and was seated. The place was not busy at all. Two tables sat two persons each. Three other tables were seated before we left. Menus came and we pondered over them, me remembering that the mpekri meze is highly touted and that I should give it a try. And it is prepared with beef here, not pork. Perhaps a nod to the Constantinopolitan cuisine (Politiki cuisine) served here. The service is what every Astoria Greek place has trouble with, so I ignored the arrogant, obnoxious service. The plastic plates are a turn off, but we stayed anyway. I held back my comments to a dining mate as he insisted that the only place to eat is Stamatis, and he knows I’ll never step foot in there again.
                          The fried eggplant/zucchini/green pepper was nice. It takes a lot to fry this up right, and I was pleased with the fine quality of ingredients and the nice skordalia that comes gratis on this and many plates, perhaps as a filler since it isn't mentioned on the menu. Note: the menu is written in Greek. I did not see, nor was offered an English written menu, if one exists. Translations, from my eavesdropping on a neighboring tables ordering, is loose and not quite correct, even bordering on the servers direction of what to and not to order with no rhyme or reason other than the kitchens direction perhaps.

                          The pastourmali was bland and boring. The pastourma was almost flavorless and almost nonexistent amid a gooey bland cheese filling. The puff pastry tasted store bought, but will take your suggestion that it is house made. The other puff pastry meze we ordered were easily forgettable. I think no sooner than they were taken away by the owners’ son, the busboy, that I forgot what they were or supposed to be.

                          Salad was ok. Several other meze dishes have already left my recollection and will probably return only if I see them again and recall trying them previously, perhaps reminding me why not to order their vast blandness again, including the mpekri meze (which tasted like it was prepared last Wednesday).

                          It is customary/traditional/whatever to order lamb chops in a taverna that isn't a fish taverna, so my dining mates ordered a double order for sharing with the rest of the meze. I shy away from grilled anything. Grilled fish, grilled lamb chops, steak, whatever. It shows nothing of what a chef can do, assuming there actually is one on the premises at anytime. The lamb chops come four to an order with fried potatoes on the side. The potatoes were fine, sprinkled with oregano and flake salt. The very thin lamb chops were of nice quality and despite the server’s look of despair when we ordered medium instead of the recommended very very very "well-done", the chops came done medium (well done in our minds). Their is always a reason to find thin sliced lamb chops in a Greek place. The Greeks and the surrounding countries (and even here in the USA I find out a lot) always eat lamb very "well-done", meaning charred black INSIDE. Thin slicing them makes it Easier for the dishwasher to grill them Faster. They came doused on lemon/olive oil oregano and flake salt. Destroying the crust that grilling leaves on them (crust isn't a popular modern Greek Home cooking technique) but flavoring them wonderfully. With several meze in the $7-$10 range, double order of lamb chops, all recommended by our server, we were still quite hungry and asked for another order of lamb chops, no hurry. This may have been a bit much for the cook as the chops come four to and order and in this order one was a little, but not much thicker than the others and subsequently RAW altogether, not quite warmed through. I took this as it is, a cooks obnoxious arrogance to my ordering something that he might actually have to monitor – its cooking. Unlike the “well-done” for whenever they come off the grill is fine – it’s “well-done”. This was our final order, thankfully.

                          Gratis dessert was not offered, but came after we asked for the check. House made halvah (not the traditional sweetened sesame seed paste/brick but the house made sweet pan) and something else unremarkable sprinkled all over with heavy and bitter tasting cinnamon. (Why?)

                          I'll be back...someday...

                          1. re: Natasa Sevoleva
                            Renate Valencia

                            First - I now live in Berkeley, and the Greek food
                            stinks here!!!

                            I lived in Astoria for years and really liked most of the places mentioned -- but with the caveat that certain things are good at certain places. Examples:

                            The rotisserie chicken at Uncle George's is TERRIBLE.
                            Always dry. The fricasse, though, and roast lamb
                            have always been good. At Tony's OPA! I would always
                            order fried Kalamari, and always liked it. It can be good at Uncle George's, too, but they tend to overcook it and requests to not do so were always gruffly received. I liked Stamatis's whole red snapper.
                            Xenon always had good fricasse when I had it.

                            So I suppose that we were selective about what we
                            ordered where since each place had strengths.
                            My stepfather was Greek so he knew the drill.


                            1. re: Renate Valencia

                              You are right about one thing - every Greek place has its strengths and weaknesses in Astoria....

                              As for Uncle George........

                              Its pretty good actually if you know Greek food and are a meat eater, I have had good experiences there.

                              I read a lot of negativity on this place, but just so we establish if you are the type who honestly goes to a traditional Greek restaurant sits down and orders a "Gyro Platter" Your opinion on the subject doesnt really matter.

                              Uncle George is good as a 'Psistaria' meaning roast-house. They do grilled and baked meat very well there.

                              You do NOT go there looking for fish, mezedes (appetizers) and ouzo, and salads type deal - go elsewhere for that. If you want the greek basic cheaper homemade style food this place is what you want. For simple, traditional Greek style meat dishes - this is exactly where to go.

                              You DO go there when you want MEAT.

                              Greek Grilled meats are very very basic, and delicious.

                              I have had several classic Greek dishes that a lot of Astorian Greek restaurants don't have or don't do very well compared to Uncle George.
                              Such as:

                              For one:

                              Bifteki: Ground Meat patties, baked in oil....these ARE the best ones in Astoria, and the dish is not popular amongst Americans who view it as hamburger without bread, but its a classic recipe in Greek households, and its 8$ with good oven potatoes and bread - one of the best deals in Astoria.
                              Authentic, homemade and very Greek, filling dish...

                              Kontosouvli - can hardly find this elsewhere in Astoria, and is pretty good. Its called "BBQ Pork" on the menu, and its bbq roasted pork meat, very simple, very tasty

                              Kokkinisto (beef in red sauce): very tough dish to get right here, and Uncle George does it well, Peloponesian classic that is not common in Greek American restaurants...had it once and it was same standard as in Greece, very tasty. Only other Kokkinisto I had in Astoria was at Stamatis, and Uncle George won that match up very easily...

                              Soutzoukakia Smyrnaika (Smyrna Meatballs in tomato sauce):
                              Pretty good, basic and made almost as good as in Greece, another basic dish that can be quite good.

                              Arni Psito - roast lamb here is really good and when your feeling for meat fresh carved off the animal this is ideal, really old Greek favourite for tavernas and on holidays, classic Peloponese of course...

                              Brizola (grilled pork chop) - again, Greek food is very simple. It doesnt sound exotic, but its delicious, oil,lemon, oregano and tastes like a basic greek grilled dish that it is...

                              Kokoretsi: Somebody said they had it and it was burned...well I never tried there kokoretsi, but as it is a very dangerous food to eat for bacteria, ( The E.U. has tried to BAN it!) they cant risk undercooking it...Personally this is an Easter food, better to eat it then...

                              They do have weak points:
                              1- The dining room is hideous more like a diner than a taverna
                              2- A bit slow sometimes
                              3- Gyros is Kronos made (crap)
                              4- French fries are frozen, not fresh (uncommon for Greek restaurants like this)

                              I will keep eating there, I have had plenty of good experiences, and so do other people I know.

                              If you want more 'sophisticated' Greek food, go elsewhere.

                              If you want classic taverna meats, cooked with plenty of oil and lemon and some good homemade kitchen dishes for a good price, this is your place.

                            2. re: Natasa Sevoleva

                              I can't agree more. My husband and I went there (Agnati), once, about a year ago. We sat down and were promptly ignored. I ordered souvlaki with fries and he a salmon fillet with a green veg side. Thirty mintues later my souvlaki came, which consisted of 4 pieces of pork fat and soggy fries. I sent it back, the waitress came back looking worse...we walked out on the bill.

                              We love Zorba's - 23rd ave and 28th street. Solid, juicy gyros, souvlakis, greek salad to cry over, and excellent baklava - and ultra friendly service. No decor to speak of but you can always do takeout. Kyclades never fails to thrill. The portions are gigantic, the meats perfect (they come from the butcher across the street) and the service hurried, but always friendly. You can't get in on any given night now; they queue up the block -- and rightfully so.

                      2. re: Photis

                        I completely agree with this. My family is Armenian, not Greek, but the cuisine has some crossover and we love Uncle George's. It's like home cooking. I don't think it's the best food in the world, but it's cheap and homey and comforting and I love the atmosphere. I have friends from Greece who love it too.

                        I would NOT order spaghetti at a Greek restaurant, ever.

                        1. re: New_2_718

                          "I don't think it's the best food in the world, but it's cheap and homey and comforting and I love the atmosphere. I have friends from Greece who love it too."

                          That's exactly why I love Uncle George's, too. Having grown up in Astoria it was always a good go-to for cheap eats. Even now that I've moved away from Astoria, a few times a year I have to take my mom or meet friends for dinner there so that I can get a fix of lamb.

                    2. I started going to Uncle George's over a dozen years ago when I was poor and lived on 44th and Broadway. A Bud long neck was $ 1 ( i think it is $3 now ) and you could have a feast for 2 for $20. I now live 40 yards away and still eat there a couple of times each month. Once you are a customer for a decade ( maybe less if you speak greek ) you can sit at the communal tables in front of the kitchen where the service is good. I would suggest that once the waiter comes you order everything at once ( drinks, apps, entres ). I would suggest :
                      -the greek salad w/ feta and fresh Parisi bread
                      - the saganaki. eat it when it is very hot w/ some lemon juice.
                      - the three dip plate
                      - the half chicken w/ lemon potatoes. do not order this in the middle of the night as it will be dry
                      - the chicken souvlaki platter w/ fries

                      I know that you could get these dishes from a cart somewhere but for the same money you can sit down, have a beer and enjoy the lively atmosphere. Also, the take out is very fast. When you call for a take out order they tell you 5 minutes and it is actually ready in 5 minutes. I have always tipped the take out waiter and i suspect that I may get some special treatment ( extra feta and bread , the plumpest chicken etc...) because of that.

                      Overall , it isn't fair to compare George's to places like Stamitis or Tony Opa's. The latter for me are "special occasion " places w/ the prices to match. I just appreciate that i can get a simple meal at a reasonable price any time of day or night in 5 minutes.

                      If you are hungry on Broadway in Astoria at 1 AM you have the cart on 32nd street, Subway and Dunkin Donuts ( they don't get fresh stock 'till 4 AM btw ). Trust me, from this perspective you can begin to appreciate Uncle George's.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: vatcat

                        I can't beleive this 4 year old thread has been revived!

                        Opa Tony's is for special occasions with prices to match??!!
                        I'm one of the few people on this board who appreciates Opa Tony but it's certainly not for special occasions. I think they do the same things well as Uncle George's -- grilled meats and low prices. Opa Tony's prices are pretty close to Uncle George's, some dishes are certainly cheaper. Overall they're probably the two cheapest Greek restaurants in Astoria. The difference is that Uncle George offers a much wider variety of dishes. That helps bring in customers despite their inability to prepare many of those dishes very well at all, while Opa Tony has a very limited menu, most of which is well prepared.