At his sleek new Greek eatery, James Paloumbis is already confounding expectations. First, the main event is souvlaki (skewered meats), not gyro. "Souvlaki is the original fast food from Greece," he said. "Thousands of years ago, someone put meat on a skewer and then put the skewer over the fire between two bricks." Paloumbis figures that if souvlaki has endured war, famine and plague, "it will work during a pandemic."
iSouvlaki serves five types of skewers, pork, chicken, bifteki (ground beef), shrimp and chickpea balls. Order them a la carte ($3.45 to $5.75), in a pita wrap with fresh-cut fries ($7.45 to $9.45) or on a platter with salad, fries and pita ($13.75 to $17.45). There’s also a platter with prime New York strip steak ($18.95).
iSouvlaki does not serve gyro. Paloumbis said that in the current hyper-hygienic climate, the idea of meat spinning around all day didn’t seem like the right approach. Then, too, what most Americans consider gyro — a column of prefabricated ground beef and lamb — isn’t recognized as such in Greece, where you’re given a choice of either pork or chicken, both made from sliced, not ground, meat.
There are precisely two salads on iSouvlaki’s menu. "With only two, we can control the ingredients, control the quality," he said. The horiatiki features tomato, red onions, green peppers, cucumber, olives, oregano and feta and is dressed with vinegar and Greek extra-virgin olive oil. You want lettuce? Order the marouli, shredded romaine, scallions, dill, feta and olive oil. "People ask me, ‘Can you put some lettuce in the horiatiki?’ I tell them, ‘order both, put them together, name it whatever you want.’"
The Glen Cove store, which opened in January, isn’t Paloumbis’ first rodeo. He opened his first iSouvlaki on East 12th Street in Manhattan in July, 2020, months before indoor dining resumed in NYC, adjusting his concept to work in a pandemic. "Limited menu, clean design, electrostatic cleaning, food that’s good whether you eat in or take out — it’s what people want now," he said.
It took him less than five months to transform the old Pollo Campero in Glen Cove’s Orchard Plaza into the bright blue-and-white iSouvlaki, whose name requires a little explanation. The "i" refers, of course, to the iPhone, whose app Paloumbis hopes customers will download to make ordering and payment easier. But "i" also namechecks its homophone, "eye." The Greek evil eye — that amulet comprising concentric blue circles that is ubiquitous in Greece and Turkey — is a key design element in the eatery and its branding. Paloumbis hopes it will ward off evil spirits.
iSouvlaki is at 190 Glen St., Glen Cove, 516-399-2030, isouvlaki.com