Astoria Breakfast: Greek Frappés and Phyllo Pies at To Laiko

By Meg Cotner

Onex

(Photographs by Meg Cotner)

Long before craft beer and specialty coffee arrived in Astoria, Queens, Greek coffee shops were the best place to grab a morning coffee, or a light meal, and catch up with friends.

Immigration trends have shifted, and the neighborhood’s famous Greek community has slowly waned. But for almost two decades To Laiko, a tiny Greek coffee shop on 23rd Avenue in the Ditmars area of Astoria, has continued serving frappés, coffee, sweet pastries, and an unusually wide selection of savory phyllo pies.

To Laiko’s frappé, an iced coffee drink made by whipping together Nescafe coffee and water (milk and sugar are optional) in a blender or cocktail shaker, is regarded as one of the best in the neighborhood. Light, yet substantial, it doesn’t over-stimulate in the caffeine department.

Frappés, hugely popular in Greece, are a staple summer drink in Astoria—where many elements of Greek culture have worked their way into the mainstream. The classic approach is to order a frappé “plain” (sketo in Greek)—with no milk or sugar. A gentler option is “medium sweet” (metreeo in Greek)—with milk and a little sugar. Whatever you order, be sure to avoid the foamy coffee dregs.

The phyllo pies at To Laiko are stuffed with spinach, kasseri (a medium-hard, sheep’s milk cheese), feta, chicken, leek, or mushroom and come in many different shapes: squares, large and small triangles, rounds, and rolled rectangles.

The hefty spinach and cheese pie, a popular breakfast option, is particularly delicious. Spinach and feta are packed between thin layers of phyllo, with earthy and salty flavors beautifully balanced. Another favorite is the mushroom pie, a smaller, rolled phyllo rectangle filled with minced mushrooms, onions, roasted peppers, and a liberal serving of black pepper. It’s light, but deeply savory.

In the summer, To Laiko sells huge slices of phyllo pies stuffed with a mix of zucchini and cheese. The filling—much lighter than that in the spinach and cheese pies—has an almost a creamy consistency. In the fall, these are replaced by mildly sweet phyllo-wrapped pumpkin pies and apple pies.

An assortment of small, round pies with thicker pastry crusts filled with chicken, kasseri, and other savory ingredients are also available year-round—as are slices of samali, a semolina and almond cake doused with sugar syrup.

Outside the shop, half a dozen chairs and a couple of tables along one wall attract regulars—mostly older men—who congregate there in the mornings, sipping frappés and iced coffees, smoking, and chatting in Greek. Later in the day the occupants of those chairs run the gamut from mothers with children to 20-somethings grabbing coffee on the run.

In Greek, To Laiko means “of the people,” and there’s no shortage of community at this hidden Astoria gem.

To Laiko
29-29 23rd Ave. (map)
Astoria, NY 11105

Meg Cotner covers food and the arts in NYC, with an emphasis on the borough of Queens. She is a co-founder of We Heart Astoria, the author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens, and writes about traditional and global food at Harmonious Belly.


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