Ovelia: A Panagias Celebration

The Greeks can party like no one’s business. On a recent Friday evening at Ovelia, a Greek restaurant in Astoria, Queens, there was plenty of evidence.

First there was the “ovelia,” itself, the namesake of the restaurant, a whole lamb cooked on a spit, over coals. Lovingly tended over for hours at a grill set up on the sidewalk by chef Peter Giannakas, and his parents Ioannis and Evangelia Giannakas, it captivated every passerby. And that’s not to mention those driving by, who had the misfortune of being teased at the red light by the delicious sights and smells and not being able to try any.

The taste of the lamb, occasionally basted in a simple emulsion of lemon juice, was bright and vibrant, a tender ode to similar feasts in Greece being held on the occasion of the Panagias festival, on Aug. 15, after a couple of weeks of fasting.

Ovelia is a family affair, anchored by Ionnis and Evangelia and their sons Peter and Chris. Neither of them seemed to be able to move very far without being dragged into a handshake, a hug, or a dance.

It was as if all of Astoria’s Greek community had turned out there that evening, spilling out from the restaurants onto the sidewalks, the buzz fueled by delicious food, flowing wine and drinks, and the presence of family and friends.

Guests sang along with the singers, clapping to the rhythm, swaying in their seats, until they couldn’t handle sitting anymore—they had to get up and dance. At front and center—who else?—Ioannis and Evangelia, sometimes looking on happily at their guests, and just as often, taking the lead.


34-01 30th Avenue
Astoria, Queens