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Thursday, July 7, 2011
Opa! Gluten-Free Feast at Ovelia

"You can't be egotistical about food, you have to explore."

Did you ever have a gluten-free meal with amazing service that almost brought you to tears? Well, I had that last night at Ovelia Psistaria in Astoria, NY. The attentive service, the decadent Greek meal, and the amazing food blogger camaraderie made for a fantastic evening only blocks from my new apartment.

I was lucky enough to be invited to this blogger dinner by Judith, founder and editor of Although Judith and I had virtually "met" a few years ago, we never met in person. It was great to finally put a face, blog, and email name together. Also at the dinner were Meg of Harmonious Belly and We Heart Astoria (Another blog Judith also contributes to), Lindsay of The Lunch Belle, and Elena of The Gotham Palete. In my more than 4 years of writing this blog, I think this was the only event where I was the sole gluten-free representative. These ladies couldn't have been more welcoming. They asked me questions about Celiac and gluten-free food and seemed genuinely interested in my dining out habits. I was happy to educate these esteemed foodies about the navigation of a gluten-free diet in a gluten-filled world.

Prior to attending this dinner, I was honestly nervous to go. Ovelia Psistaria had just launched their "Rock n' Ribs Wednesdays" and when I saw the menu online I knew it would be a gluten-filled meal with lots of BBQ sauce and sides I would not be able to eat. I reached out to the restaurant via their Contact Us page and heard back within a couple of days. I got a response from Peter Giannakas, one of the owners and the chef of Ovelia. Peter's response started to ease my gluten-free fears. He said:
I can list all the items that are gluten free but that would be almost the entire menu. So instead I will list the items that you would want to avoid!  Also very important is to mention to your server about gluten-free restriction and to absolutely get a manager, who will be more than happy to address the issue to me and the kitchen so that we can take further precautions while prepping the meal!

Items to avoid:
melitzanosalates, keftedakia, fried feta cubes, fried kalamari, kolokithokeftedes, fried squash and eggplant, spanakopita, monastiraki bifteki, olive brine pork (can be served without dumpling), mousaka, pastitsio, veggie mousaka, ribeye (avoid our genuine steak sauce), all our pasta dishes with the exception of the ouzo stir fry which is prepared with rice noodles
Wow, that was a Greek mouthful but also so reassuring. I was already off to an amazing start with Ovelia. When I responded to Peter that I was coming to Judith's Rock N' Ribs event, he did some kitchen investigation. He then replied:
So the sauces are not gluten free but if you would like i can smoke a rack or a half a rack without basting them with the bbq sauce! And maybe you can bring your own? 
What?? I can bring my own sauce and you will leave some ribs "au natural" for me? Sign me up!! I wrote back to Peter to tell him I would indeed be there and would come with some of the new Guy Fieri BBQ sauce I got last week. BBQ Game On!

When I arrived at the restaurant, I met Peter within minutes. We spoke openly about the menu to come and he eagerly took my BBQ sauce to put on the smoked ribs. As I spoke to Peter with Judith about the menu, I became more and more relaxed. Peter said "You can't be egotistical about food, you have to explore." I am not sure if Peter realized how important this was to hear; these words alone were music to my ears. Peter, thank you for being so open and not brushing off food intolerances as a nuisance!

As the food began to arrive, I slowly drifted into a gluten-free Greek food heaven. Homemade family-recipe greek sausage (Ovelia Loukaniko) with lemon, halloumi (Greek cheese) with prosciutto, and at least 4 other (gluten) appetizers arrived first. The staff clearly pointed out which were safe for me to eat. The new Corn Dog Buttons were deep-fried sausage bites in a corn batter, but Peter mentioned there was not a dedicated fryer in the kitchen. Good to know. Next came out feta cheese infused with jalapenos. This is not a regular menu item but it is the filling to one of the deep-friend appetizers. It was so nice to enjoy a similar dish to what the other women were eating. Peter also brought out some halloumi chips were absolutely amazing. Think thin potato chips made entirely of cheese. You can't go wrong!

Judith, Meg, Lindsay, Elena, and I were quickly getting full off the abundance of appetizers but next up came our dinner. At this point, I barely had any room left but Peter's staff brought me out a rack of ribs made with the Guy Fieri Kansas City BBQ sauce and I couldn't let those pass by. I had three of the ribs which were really good and some of the side dishes including the oven-roasted lemon potatoes (A typical Green side and one of my favorites), french fries, and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. I only had enough room for a taste of these dishes and the sides since I was so full.

Throughout the meal, the staff continued to tell me the ingredients of all of the new dishes they brought out and tell me if they were gluten-free or not. Yes, we were at a food blogger dinner but I sensed the generosity and care of the preparation and presentation of the dishes were genuine. Chris Giannakis, the co-owner, "front of the house", and Peter's brother, came out during the meal to introduce himself and make sure everything was good. With all the food we were stuffing in our mouths, all we could do was eagerly nod and mumble thank yous.

If you are looking for authentic Greek food with a staff that understands the need for dietary alterations and seems to really care about their clientele, then Ovelia Psistaria is your place.

Thank you Judith of for inviting me to dinner and Lindsay, Meg, and Elena for being so cordial and interested in learning more about being gluten-free.

A very special thank you to Chef/Co-Owner Peter Giannakis and Co-Owner Chris Giannakis for going above and beyond for a fantastic, delicious, and most importantly safe gluten-free meal at your restaurant Ovelia! I will be back very soon.

Ovelia Psistaria
34-01 30th Ave.
Astoria, NY

Updated: Read Fooditka's rview of Ovelia here.

And check out her super cute new logo. Love it!

Tasty, rib-sticking convivality – Review of Ovelia Psistaria by The Gotham Palate

Loukaniko at Ovelia by Harmonious Belly

Click here for even more links about dining in Astoria.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great, grand experience Peter participated with you to make Greek-style and ribs a rivoting (opps, rockin') taste sensation and GF. I so hope Peter and Ovelia inspire other chefs to be so open and willing to work with GLUTEN-Free delights. Mmmmmarvelous! Thanks for the share!

Blogger Fooditka said...

I absolutely love this post, Erin. So glad you had a great time, and I have a feeling that the Ovelia staff was happy to please us. I had a leftover feta cube tonight actually, and it was deee-licious :)

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