If you’re looking for traditional, authentic Greek food at a reasonable price in a homey, elegant atmosphere, Taverna 38 on Hillside Avenue in Williston Park is the place to be.
Owned by seasoned restaurateurs, Claudio Peralta and John Alexopoulos, Taverna 38 is Greek cooking at its best.
Executive chef Steve Papadopoulos is at the helm in the kitchen, and has worked extensively in European restaurants, many of which he owned, and in European hotels.
Taverna, which means tavern in Greek, is a far cry from a tavern. With its plush ivory-colored upholstered chairs and booths, and warm blue tones and accents, there is an elegance here that you don’t see at many Greek restaurants today. It’s elegant, but not pretentious, and as soon as you meet Claudio and John, you are welcomed as if you are family coming for dinner.
“Our concept was to serve traditional Greek cuisine, like home cooking—very simple, rustic,” said Claudio Peralta. “It’s very elegant looking inside, but when the people walk in we treat them like they are coming home. The food is truly Greek—simple, healthy, fresh.”
Paralta, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the United States in 1996 at age 21, and started working in fine dining restaurants, as a maître d’, manager, captain and sommelier. His credits include stints at the London NYC, A Voce, Daniel and Picholine where he worked for over a decade. It was at Picholine where he met John Alexopoulos.
Alexopoulos grew up in the restaurant business, working weekends and summers as a teenager in his father’s Greek diner. While studying accounting at Baruch College in 1993, a friend was able to get him an interview at the St. Regis in New York City. John was hired to work as a busboy in Lespinasse, and within a year he was promoted to captain.
“It was at Lespinasse where I fell in love with fine dining,” said Alexopoulos.
From there he went on to work as captain at several acclaimed restaurants including Adour by Alain Ducasse, Estiatorio Milos, Bouley and Picholine. Alexopoulos also holds a certificate from the Sommelier Society of America.
Mutual friends of John and Claudio convinced them to open a restaurant together and to look at the space in Williston Park. In November of 2015 they launched a Mediterranean restaurant called Xarello, but by May, the partners decided to go back to Alexopolous’s roots, and re-launch it as a traditional Greek restaurant with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Taverna seats 60 in the dining room and 14 at the bar.
The menu includes delicious traditional Greek cuisine such as avgolemono, an egg, lemon, chicken soup with orzo; spanakopita, northern Greek village–style spinach pie; pastitsio, layers of baked macaroni, tomato, ground beef and béchamel; and moussaka, baked layers of eggplant, potato, zucchini, ground beef and béchamel.
Some of the more interesting and popular dishes include a grilled Spanish octopus appetizer with arugula in a Greek red wine vinaigrette, and a whole branzino imported from Greece. It is grilled and served with olive oil, lemon and some parsley. The spreads are equally as popular and include tzatziki, the Greek yogurt, cucumber and garlic spread; melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant, red pepper and garlic; taramosalata, red caviar, lemon and extra virgin olive oil, and traditional hummus made with chickpeas, tahini and extra-virgin olive oil.
All the olive oil and vinegar, as well as all the fish, are imported directly from Greece. Other fish dishes include garides psites, grilled shrimp with lemon, olive oil and oregano; taverna glossa, a baked fillet of flounder with tomato, feta, white wine and herbs; and a Mediterranean sea bass served with lemon potatoes.
For those who love traditional Greek lamb dishes, there is paidakia, grilled baby lamb chops; arnisio kotsi, braised lamb shanks with tomato and orzo, and arni kleftiko, a braised leg of lamb with graviera cheese wrapped in a filo purse with baked vegetables.
Claudio and John started me off with some amazing appetizers. The first was a house special—a whole baked calamari stuffed with fresh sautéed spinach, leek, feta and a touch of tomato and herbs finished in a delicate tomato sauce with a tomato, honey, balsamic aioli. A crispy, panko-breaded zucchini stick was served with the dish. The generous portion is definitely a dish that can be shared, and the flavors and textures of this dish were outstanding. This dish paired perfectly with a glass of Assyrtiko, Lyrarakis Petrokaliva, a 2014 Greek white wine from Crete that was absolutely delicious.
Next up was the grilled Spanish octopus, which was served with grilled shrimp over a lightly dressed arugula salad. This dish could probably be shared, too, but I couldn’t help myself. I ate the whole thing. It was that good. The octopus was tender and sweet, perfectly cooked and full of flavor, as were the shrimp. There is a process to preparing and cooking octopus, and Chef Papadopoulos has mastered it. The octopus is covered in foil and is braised with bay leaves in the oven for several hours at a low temperature. The foil helps to steam the octopus, which makes it extremely tender. It is then lightly grilled to order. This dish was colorful and beautifully presented. It’s something I would definitely order again. It, too, paired well with the Greek white wine.
For an entrée, I was served a house special, a whole pork tenderloin, peppercorn crusted and braised with red wine. It was stuffed with feta and tomato and topped with a basil, barbecue sauce, baked apples and vegetables. This was a generous size dish showcasing a lot of different flavors. It paired nicely with a wonderful Zinfandel from Napa Valley. Be sure to ask for this dish cooked medium rare.
The baklava blew me away, and I loved how it was served in three easy-to-eat logs. It is made traditionally with chopped walnuts and sugar in filo, with a touch of cinnamon, but chocolate syrup is added to the honey as well as a hint of citrus to create a melt-in-your-mouth experience. It was a perfect ending to a delicious Greek meal.
Taverna 38 is open for dinner seven nights a week. Monday–Thursday from 5–9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5–10 p.m., Sunday 3–9 p.m.