Feast at Crave Astoria: Where Greek Food Takes Center Stage

The June Pick of the Month goes to the aptly named Crave Astoria. This restaurant deserves attention not only for the quality of its food but also for its prices. In a meeting with two-thirds of Crave’s owners, they broke down exactly what makes this local hotspot so special. It begins with the culinary knowledge of owner Billy Pappas. ‘I went to CIA,’ he explained. For those who aren’t in the food industry, that’s the Culinary Institute of America, one of the oldest spots to learn the craft in the U.S. He went on, ‘I spent 15 years in Manhattan. I worked at the Rainbow Room. In about 2008, the economy took a hit, and I was looking for executive chef positions.’ Pappas decided to team up with two other key players, current partners Elias Sparagis (also Pappas’ cousin), and Marinos Argyos. ‘My cousin had a restaurant. My other business partner was making gyros in Corfu. He brought the recipes. I brought the sauces.’

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Crave Astoria Image by @jamesdelgenio

After just a few moments, it’s easy to see the dynamic at work here. Pappas is quieter and more reserved with a keen eye for detail. Sparagis is affable and full of energy. In another life, he might have been a comedian. Sparagis explained the origin of the restaurant’s name with enthusiasm. ‘Not gonna lie,’ he said, ‘After a lot of lot of weed, we thought ‘Crave.’”

These owners are hyper-aware of the community around them. Sparagis grew up in Astoria, and he and Pappas understand the ever-changing city and use that knowledge to their advantage. When Crave opened in 2009, they figured out that they could get ahead of the curve by staying open really, really late. Pappas explained, ‘When I was working at the Rainbow Room, there was nothing open late in Astoria. I had the idea to be open ‘til 4am or 5am. But things change.’

4 Crave Astoria souvlaki sticks
souvlaki sticks @jamesdelgenio

That they do. As the neighborhood became more family oriented, Crave Astoria adjusted its hours to reflect the evolving landscape. Although not the night owl haunt that it once was, Crave is still open until 1am, which gives you plenty of time to order a great meal after a show or concert.

When discussing food, the usually subdued Pappas becomes more animated. ‘We’ve completely revamped the menu, made it a little more affordable,’ he said. ‘Trimmed the prices a little bit, controlled portions.’ For just $7.95, a quarter-pound Crave Burger absolutely demands attention. It’s a great burger at a great price.

5 Crave Astoria Crave Burger
Crave Burger @jamesdelgenio

And while Crave Astoria serves its food with a Greek slant, there are plenty of choices on its impressive menu. Pappas pointed out the new cheesesteak and chopped cheese bowls in addition to the Greek Bowl, the restaurant’s famous best seller. Sparagis added, ‘We started before the chains. It’s trademarked, federally protected. The bowls are really popular.’ How popular? Off the top of his head, Pappas knew the answer. Just last year, Crave Astoria sold 24,000 bowls.

1 Crave Astoria Greek bowl
Greek bowl @jamesdelgenio

Pappas and Sparagis aren’t slowing down either. They’re constantly tinkering so that their food is always changing, never stagnant. They own other restaurants and have recently expanded their food empire. ‘We also own the Shady Lady. We got a great spot. We also opened The Oven,’ Pappas said. Right next door to Crave Astoria, The Oven serves up fantastic pizza, and ordering from Crave Astoria allows you to add one of those pizzas to your order with ease. It’s a great complement to a bowl or Crave Burger. ‘The actual oven is from 1964. That’s why we call it The Oven. It took a couple of weeks to figure out logistics to get it over here. It’s incredible,’ he marveled, ‘Just the way it cooks.’

28-55 36th St. / Phone: 718.726.4976 / craveastoria.com / Yelp 3.5