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Elpida's Souvlaki stand has been a staple in the Astoria community for 25 years and counting.
Offering a home cooked feel right to your home, the Souvlaki Lady aims to bring true Soulvaki food to the streets of New York.
Souvlaki Lady - Interview
As you descend the stairs from the Ditmars and 31st Street N and W station, you can feel your tummy rumbling as your thoughts turn to pondering, "what's for dinner tonight?"
The last thing you feel like doing is cooking over a hot stove. And, let's be real, you've re-heated leftovers from Sunday dinner twice already, this week. That's not happening.
Yes, you can always do Chinese take-out or pizza. But, that's SO very been there,done that. You're in the mood for something different. However, it has to be quick, tasty and convenient. The problem is, you're not sure where to turn.
Well, please allow Aplez.com to point you in the right direction. How does some authentic and delicious Greek comfort food sound, right about now? We thought you'd be intrigued!
It's time to bring some of that warming sunshine from the Greek Islands into your life asap !
When you get off the train, just keep walking down the street until you hit the bright lights of busy and bustling Ditmars Blvd. Then make a sharp right and walk over to the corner of 33rd Street.
You'll know that you are getting close when the enticing aroma of fresh grilled meat, lemon and spices envelops your senses.
Without any fuss, your dinner time solution is at hand ! You have arrived at the delicious and delectable domain of Elpida Vasiliadis, Astoria's famed Souvlaki Lady.
Recently, we had the privilege of chatting with the personable and always smiling Elpida while she fed a constantly-growing line of ravenous customers. Her beautiful food cart on wheels is certainly worthy of making an appearance on Food Network shows such as Food Truck Wars and the Great Food Truck Race with chef Tyler Florence. It's that nice!
The main colors are white and Mediterranean blue. The Souvlaki Lady logo is proudly emblazoned atop the front of the cart while the sides are decorated with Greek motifs and a larger than life photo of souvlakis on a stick , which definitely whets one's appetite.
There's also artwork that depicts an open suitcase that displays the Hellenic flag alongside a patio, chairs and a table that looks to be straight out of a sun-kissed house on the Greek Islands.
Working inside the relatively spacious cart, Elpida is protected from the elements, which is a huge change from the days when she had to make do with a small,very basic hot-dog style street vendor's push cart.
Chuckling, Elpida said that "For sure, the new cart does protect me from the rain and wind, but there's no AC and, during the coldest of Winter days, the heat can be a little spotty. No worries, though, I'm used to it. " That is as old-school an attitude as it gets.
Reminiscing, Elpida added "There's no doubt about it, though,the food truck and cart industry is very different from when I started in this business. Which is more years than I care to remember. I am not exactly sure when America became "food truck nation", but I am extremely grateful for the recognition it has brought to the hard-working people in our industry."
Continuing on, Elpida revealed that " My daughter Eleni actually designed both the cart and the logo for our brand. I wanted something that would incorporate ood elements but also be fun. And, so came to be the Souvlaki Lady."
The cart contains various amenities like a fridge, state of the art fryer, ample storage space and a large BBQ grill which is where the souvlaki magic happens. When you get a look at those tender, juicy pieces of chicken and pork cooking on that magnificent grill, you'll wish you had one of these babies for your home.
Having achieved something akin to legendary status among Queens foodies, Elpida and her family have been feeding hungry local residents for over thirty years.
Her story is the American Dream come to life. But, more on that later. You're hungry, so let's get right to Elpida's authentic Greek dishes, which are made with homespun care and a whole lot of love.
Variety is definitely the spice of life when it comes to Elpida's menu, which offers something for everyone. And her prices are very affordable, so you can indulge your culinary cravings all that you want!
Watching Elpida and her assistant work is like watching a ballet company on stage.
Their movements are precise and on-point as they turn skewers of succulent souvlaki over on the grill and dish up steaming platters of food with a flourish. As chef Elpida likes to say ," We've got this down to a science. We cook everything to order.However, nobody likes to be kept waiting too long for their food."
Of course, the main attraction at Souvlaki Lady are the meats. Absolutely mouth-watering, you can choose from either pork or chicken souvlaki or, be a little adventurous, and order the tempting Soutzoukakia. You won't regret it.
Beaming with pride, Elpida told Aplez.com that; " These are the newest additions to my menu. In Greek, Soutzoukakia literally means little sausages. While most of my customers cannot pronounce the name, they definitely know what they like. One taste and you'll be coming back for more."
These carnivorous gems are crafted with minced beef and traditional Greek spices like garlic, cumin, parsley and olive oil.
You can enjoy Elpida's souvlaki and sausage creations three ways ; on a stick, drizzled with lemon juice and a touch of salt , as a sandwich, wrapped inside of a warm,freshly grilled pita with all the fixins',( lettuce,tomato, onions and choice of sauce) or ,for heartier appetites, as a platter.
All platters include a more than generous portion of crisp lettuce,onions and juicy slices of tomato as well as either French fries or rice.
Do not sleep on this rice. It is outrageous. As Elpida says, the secret is in the prep.
"We use premium long-grain Jasmine rice that is seasoned with home made boullion powder,dried parsley as well as onion powder and a touch of garlic. The rice takes a lot of effort to prepare but it's worth it, judging from our customer's reactions. We frequently sell out on this item, before closing up shop, no matter how big a batch we make."
"Another thing that has been going over very well with our customers are our dinner boxes. Families and couples love them. These boxes are available from 4 until 7 PM. Just ask your readers to call ahead, place their order and it will be here at the cart waiting for them."
They are also a great option to feed your starving room mates, as well. The Dinner Box for two is comprised of 4 pork or chicken sticks, a large salad, a small fries or rice, Italian or Pita bread and a side of Elpida's specialty sauce.
The Dinner for 4 box offers eight souvlaki sticks, a large portion of rice or fries, a humongous salad,as well as your choice of bread and sauce.
Other menu favorites include burgers, hot dogs and special Pita Creations such as The Ditmars, a mouthful of goodness, which consists of your choice of Souvlaki, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and BOTH ranch and BBQ sauce.
Ah yes, as the saying goes, it IS all in the sauce, at least where the Souvlaki Lady is concerned. Each one of Elpida's hand-crafted sauces adds yet another element of authenticity and flavor to the overall Souvlaki Lady experience.
"Sauces or spreads play an important role in the dishes served at traditional Greek tavernas.My family's taverna had at least eight options that our customers could choose to add to their food. I wanted to bring a little of that here to Astoria."
Specialty sauces range from a light and refreshing avocado and a rather fiery chipotle mayo to honey mustard that is not too sweet and, of course, Tzatziki.
Always coming up with new creations, Elpida gave us some insight into a couple of her most popular sauces. "Our signature Souvlaki Lady sauce, which is really an aioli, is fast becoming a neighborhood favorite. It is the perfect compliment to our chicken and pork but adds a little more pizzazz to every bite."
"The Tirokafteri that we have on the menu is made out of feta cheese, roasted red peppers,red pepper flakes, yogurt and a secret blend of spices. All of the ingredients are brought together to make a delectable spread with a creamy consistency. Something like a Greek-style Guacamole, if you will."
Elpida's journey from Greece to America took many twists and turns. But this resilient woman is no stranger to overcoming challenges and turning a negative into a positive. With her husband and children forever by her side, Elpida believes that, in life, anything is possible if you are willing to work hard to achieve your goals.
"Food and hospitality has always been a part of me. " explained Elpida. "I literally grew up in a restaurant. My family owned a taverna in my hometown of Thessaloniki. It was called Psilokastro,which roughly translates to "high castle". It was named after the village where my father grew up."
The predominately Greek neighborhood of Astoria provided Elpida and her husband with a welcoming environment. However, at first, things were not so easy for this young couple who were looking to gain a solid foothold in their new country.
"We purchased our original cart from the previous owner shortly after my son was born in 1988. The goal was to have a job close to home, that was flexible and would give me the chance to be near my small children."
"Back then, the prep and hours were much less rigorous than they are now. I worked from around 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM. We did the lunch hour rush and also got some customers who wanted a snack while they were out shopping. We did not serve dinner at the time. It wasn't really busy during the evening. There weren't many people out and about in Ditmars, after dark."
When you are the Souvlaki lady, there is really no such thing as a typical day. As a chef and business owner, Elpida has to be quick on her feet in order to respond to customer requests and unforseen developments.
Elpida gave an insight into everything that is involved in putting out the best product possible.
"I start my day very early in the morning, when I leave my house to pick up the cart. That's when the prep begins. All the veggies and salads have to be cut up for service and the meats are marinated and skewered. I have to make sure that the bread for the day has been delivered. And, in the Winter time we make a soup of the day. So, that's a little added work right there. "
"Every evening, when our day is finally done,the cart has to be emptied in its' entirety and thoroughly cleaned. I usually end up getting home around 9 PM. Then I get to relax and decompress a bit . The next morning, the whole process starts all over again. But I love it. It's what I do. I don't know any other way to explain it. It sounds like a cliche' but I love our customers. They are the ones who make all the hard work and long hours worthwhile. Being a part of this wonderful neighborhood, for so many years, you get to know people. Most of our customers are now friends. I fed them when they were kids and now, they come here with their own children."
Elpida, when you are not being the celebrated Souvlaki Lady and you have put aside your "super-cook" cape and chef's outfit for the day , what do you do to unwind and chill?
"I have a deep appreciation for Broadway shows. I enjoy going to the theater and getting lost in the magical worlds that are portrayed on the stage. Before or after the show, I enjoy discovering new restaurants and cafes."
"Whenever I am out with family and friends,my favorite way to eat is to order a ton of appetizers and create a complete experience with the meal. After all, there is nothing better than laughter and good company around a table full of food!"
With the nice weather finally upon us, Astoria naturally turns its' thoughts to the great outdoors. And that includes leisurely picnics at Astoria Park.
The next time you are planning to spend some time at this lush, green waterfront oasis, why not stop by the Souvlaki Lady first and get a mouth watering lunch that is piping hot and ready to go ?
Elpida's classic souvlaki sandwiches on pita, burgers, fries and salads will taste that much better, ( if that is even possible !), when they are being enjoyed under a tree with a sweeping view of the East River before you.
If you are planning any kind of family gathering, backyard celebration or even a roof top party at your apartment building or condo, then be sure to give Elpida and her crew a call.
They specialize in full-service catering. Elpida's regular food truck menu is available plus all of the traditional Greek dishes that you have come to know and love like spinach pie, roasted lemon chicken, stewed lima beans in sauce, Moussaka, lemon potatoes and Pastitchio.
You can also explore the build your own pita bar option, which opens up a whole world of culinary delight. There's no need to stop there. If you don't see what you want on the menu; just ask.
As Elpida says, "If you think it we can make it." Your guests will appreciate the wow factor that the Souvlaki Lady adds to any occasion. Stronger than ever, the love affair between Astoria's foodies and the multi-talented Souvlaki Lady shows no signs of slowing down. As is the case with fine wine, the bond between Elpida and her community simply gets better with age.
Location and Hours
33rd Street and Ditmars Blvd.
Astoria, N.Y. 11105
Monday to Friday 11:30 AM to 7 PM
Saturday 11:30 AM to 5 PM
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Address: 33rd Street and Ditmars Boulevard
City: New York
Mon 11:30am - 7:00pm ,
Tue 11:30am - 7:00pm ,
Wed 11:30am - 7:00pm ,
Thu 11:30am - 7:00pm ,
Fri 11:30am - 7:00pm ,
Sat 11:30pm - 5:00pm ,
Sun CLOSED - CLOSED .