In Astoria, Queens the taco stands and women in head scarves are reminders that the neighborhood is not as Greek as it once was. Nevertheless, Astoria's Greek restaurants are still a great attraction--especially the Zenon Taverna.
I first went to Zenon in the early 1990s and found it a great meze place. I returned today, after an absence of more than ten years, to celebrate the birthday of my friend's son. I found a spruced up taverna with an even bigger menu.
When my friend Demetrios Mihailides discovered Zenon many years ago, it was a low-key hangout for Cypriot soccer players with great food. Since then Stelios Papageorgiou, who was trained in Cyprus and took over Zenon in 1988, has expanded the taverna into a bigger operation that does catering, banquets and take-out food.
Zenon may be doing a bigger kind of business, but the food is still excellent. Cypriot cooking has subtle differences from Greek cooking that went over my head; all I know is that I enjoyed the tatziki, grilled octopus, spinach pies, retsina and red wine that we had for appetizers. Then we moved on to the equally good heart of the meal: roast lamb, vegetarian meat balls, roasted potatoes, sausages, kabobs, stuffed grape leaves, and fried squid.
Not only was the food excellent, but the service was friendly. The white-walled upstairs banquet room, where we ate to the delightful sounds of Demetrios' s son A.J. enjoying his birthday with his friends, was airy and comfortable. The ground floor dining room, where most customers eat, looked equally pleasant.
Astoria may be changing, but the good food at Zenon, located at 34-10 31st Avenue, is a constant; most of the entrees are well under $15.
If you're going there from Manhattan, take the N train to the 30th Avenue stop; it's a short walk up 31st Avenue to Zenon.