SVL Bar …Souvlaki is Eternal!
by Athena Efter
Souvlakia and gyros to Greeks are like cheeseburgers and hot dogs to Americans. Some cheeseburgers and hot dogs are better than others, just like some souvlakia and gyros are better than others. In a food mecca like New York and a Greek town like Astoria, you may think you’ve tried them all. You may think, ok, another souvlaki joint in town. What’s the big deal? If it’s a better deal, it’s a great deal.
As an American girl, I’m always up for trying a great new burger, and as a Greek girl, I won’t refuse tender, juicy pork cubes tightly woven around a stick or thinly sliced strips of meat folded up in a pita sandwich. I love to eat, and I do, upon occasion, enjoy a little “street meat” from the carts that grill them up on all four corners of this little Greek (or not so Greek) town. Yet, when something better comes along, at the same price, I prefer quality. I discovered a new finer dining souvlaki experience, to eat-in or to take-out, and I don’t have to worry about bird poop and pigeon feathers falling from the overhead train trestles, flying straight onto my souvlaki and right into my tongue.
SVL Bar is the brainchild of two good friends, Kostas Gurlakis, a former banker, and Peter Katsiaris, a former caterer. What happens when money and food come together? Why a business, of course! Friends since 1997, they spent many nights over a cup of coffee up and down the European style cafes that line the streets of Astoria’s Grand Avenue, more commonly referred to as 30th Avenue, and came up with their “grand” idea to open their own unique Athenian style food boutique, SVL Bar. They wanted something authentic and something different. It’s sleek, clean, and minimalistic. It is something different – not the typical white stucco-walls and blue wooden chairs with straw-covered seats under a canopy of hanging grapevines. No pictures of old and new Hellas, either. This is a souvlaki bar after all, not a taverna.
The menu is basic and clean. They are in the business of souvlaki and gyros, and to these young entrepreneurs it’s serious business. They take pride in the quality of their product to serve you locally sourced, hand-selected meats, including chicken, raised without antibiotic feed, in their signature sticks and sandwiches. What makes this pork meat a little different? Instead of the usual medley of pork butt that can often be found in souvlaki or the slimy textured heavily spiced non-descript “mystery meat” often found in gyro, you get pork neck, which is much lighter, leaner and cleaner in flavor. Even all the produce is locally sourced, except for seasonal vegetables, to create a colorful blend of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce beautifully presented, like a Greek country garden, in a metal bowl.
SVL Bar uses all brand new equipment to create their signature pita sandwiches, stuffed and rolled with hand-cut fries, sliced pork, onions, tomatoes and a thick cucumber yogurt sauce. An architect was hired to conceptualize the design of the restaurant. Everything is new and modern, right down to the blackboard depicting several thematic stencil-like drawings of cows, pigs, and chickens, to the futuristic snowflake-like chandelier that hangs from the ceiling. When you first walk in, you notice a giant silver fork above the counter of the wide open kitchen space. It may not all be fork food, but the open kitchen, with its pots, pans, and plates neatly stacked and organized on a big chrome island countertop, right in the center, surrounded by grills emitting the scents of perfectly charred meats, and nothing to hide, certainly whets one’s appetite.
No matter what hour of day or time of night, SVL Bar, conveniently located at 30-18 Astoria Boulevard, near the Grand Central Expressway, delivers the goods. They will even deliver them curbside, straight to your car, so you can take your hogs, hefers and chickens to go if you can’t make into the bar. And yes, you can get a Greek style hamburger (bifteki) and hot dog (loukaniko) too. You don’t have to be torn between the two. You can get them on “all fours” with mini shots of assorted gyro sliders. But whether or not you walk in or drive up, eat less or more, it’s a great place to stop by, be greeted by a friendly staff, and try something authentic and different.
This is one bar that’s open to patrons before noon, from 11am-11pm, Sunday through Thursday. And for all you weekend party animals, their souvla (Greek word for grill) is rolling round the clock, from 11am – 6am. I could very well replace my Sunday bacon for a Sunday morning Greek sausage gyro, and leave the butts and indigestion at the street carts, especially at 2am in the morning. To quote their slogan: “People Disappoint. Souvlaki is eternal.” Eternally fulfilling.