There was a time, and not so long ago, when upper Bowery briefly became one of the city's most incongruous stretches of destination-dining, with hotspots like Pearl and Ash, Cherche Midi, DBGB, and Rebelle hosting wine-soaked parties every night amid the battered old restaurant supply shops. They're all closed now, as is the also-very-briefly-hot French brasserie La Gamelle, on the block next to the New Museum, but it seems that restaurateurs have not entirely given up the historic stretch.
About a month ago a big new Greek mezze and meat palace opened in the La Gamelle (née Bowery Diner) space, called Karvouna. Co-owner Dimitris Vlahakis and chef Giuseppe Scalco are from Greece—specifically, Athens and its environs—and before cooking here Scalco spent time at the Greek steakhouse Merakia in the Flatiron District. So the passion and experience is definitely there, though whether it's enough to attract diners back to Bowery remains to be seen.
The Karvouna menu has many of the dishes you'd expect, from Spanakopita and feta-heavy salads to Lamb Ribs and Moussaka. But at a press dinner this week we sampled several of the more unusual-sounding offerings as well. One of Karvouna's self-proclaimed signature dishes are the Peinirli, or Pizza Boats, which arrive via a "100 years old street food recipe from Smyrna." These are basically canoe-shaped mini-loaves of hollowed-out bread (think khachapuri), filled with fluffy kefalograviera cheese and your choice of seasoned ground beef or bits of bacon.
There are Halloumi Fries, which are lightly-battered cheese sticks that you dip in a crock of yogurt, and a grilled Octopus mezze that sits in a creamy Santorini fava bean sauce. Chef Scalco cooks a lot of pig back there in the kitchen, and the Pork Belly mezze features a trio of crisp-skinned, heavily-fatted slabs of meat in a puddle of ouzo honey and sautéed greens.
The showstopper here is the Mix Grill For Two, which lands on your table atop a warm (though not actively aflame) hibachi. There's a lot of meat on this thing, including big chunks of heavily charred pork kodosouvli and a whole pork sausage cut into bite-sized pieces. Peppers, onions, and zucchini slices take up position on the vegetable side of the grill. It also comes with a side of Lemon Potatoes. For dessert we had two of pastry chef's Richard Chirol's creations, an unnaturally pink Red Velvet Halva and a log of Baklava covered in crushed pistachios.
Karvouna's basic layout is the same as it was in the La Gamelle days, and when we arrived in the early evening only the front dining area was open, a room dominated by a heavy, curvy bar and a mural of Medusa. The ceiling is all blue sky and puffy clouds.
Karvouna Mezze is located at 241 Bowery, between Stanton and Rivington, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight (212-388-0052; karvounamezze.com)