The 48th annual Greek Festival begins Friday at Tacoma’s St. Nicholas church, but I couldn’t wait to reek of Greek. And neither should you.
Before, during or after the annual Greek food festival this weekend, get your fill of moussaka and gyros at two South Sound Greek restaurants that are on the move: It’s Greek To Me and the Greek Café.
Last Monday, popular Tacoma fast-food restaurant It’s Greek To Me opened a sit-down, full service (with ouzo!) outpost in downtown Puyallup in the space formerly occupied by DeCaterina’s. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.
But today, I’ll spread a little Greek love for the Greek Café, formerly called Johnnie’s Greek Café. The Lakewood restaurant moved six weeks ago from its home at 96th and Bridgeport. The new restaurant dropped Johnnie’s from the name because, well, Johnnie Dimakis hasn’t been involved with the restaurant since Ali Kashi bought the cafe about three years ago. (Dimakis is now working in the kitchen at It’s Greek To Me in Puyallup, but more on that tomorrow).
So Kashi and crew moved the newly coined Greek Café to 109th and Bridgeport. The kitchen staff is the same, according to Michelle Lallis of the Greek Café. I’d say things are looking up at the restaurant. When I paid a visit to Johnnie’s in September 2009, as written about here, I wasn’t fully enthusiastic about the gyros.
A recent visit to Greek Café shows the restaurant has made some improvements in its food, although the gyros did miss my mark, but they were better than my previous visit. Take note: I don’t judge a Greek restaurant by gyros alone. Moussaka, calamari and lamb also are solid measurements to rate Greek. And at the Greek Café, moussaka ($10.65) is something the restaurant executes with precision. The eggplant casserole arrived as a cube – always a good sign for the Greek casserole that sometimes can puddle when loose layers ooze into a big pool of moussaka mess. But this moussaka had body, flavor, character. Thinly sliced eggplant perfumed with garlic was topped with a layer of cinnamon scented ground beef that had none of the loose, pebbly quality that should never ruin a moussaka, but so frequently does. The creamy finish to moussaka comes from a heady layer of silky, eggy béchamel powered by nutmeg. The dish came with seasoned pilaf, garlic bread and a choice of green beans or potatoes slow simmered in tomato sauce.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the gyros ($7.65), but the sandwich wasn’t executed as well as I would have liked. The pita disintegrated as my dining companion struggled with layers of fairly greasy, if not tasty gyros meat (this time, they got the seasoning right). The drippy, thin tzatziki sauce didn’t help matters much, and neither did the slightly green tomatoes and limp lettuce.
Moving to the appetizer menu, the calamari ($9.65) was a delicious start. The Greek Café uses steak, not rings, here and I appreciated the meaty, tender strips were panko coated and quickly fried. Thick, red marinara came on the side for dipping, as did slices of grill-warmed pita.
The menu is essentially the same as what was offered at Johnnie’s, right down to the Johnnie’s name, which still is on the menus. Lallis said that would change soon when they get new menus. See menu highlights below.
The restaurant is fast casual: order at the counter and help yourself to silverware, then find a seat. Staff will shuttle the food and bus the tables. For the menu prices, I was surprised the restaurant was fast casual. With entrees in the $10-$14 range and upward, I was expecting table service.
The atmosphere is austere – plain walls, tile floors and otherwise pretty sparsely decorated. A semi-open kitchen offers diners a glimpse of the kitchen staff at work.
Greek main entrees: Dolmades, stuffed chicken saganaki, calamari, salmon lemonato, spanakopita, all starting at $10.65 and topping out at $15.65 (the Greek combo that looked as if it could feed at least two diners, is $24.65)
Sandwiches: Gyros, chicken gyros, veggie gyros, souvlaki, falafel and meatball sandwiches priced in the $7.65-$8.65 range.
Pizza: Greek, New Yorker, Napolatana, Greek Garlic and more starting at $11.15 and up.
Pasta: Traditional spaghetti, spaghetti skorthato, myzithra spaghetti, chicken mavrodaphne, starting at $9.15 and topping out at $14.65
Where: 10924 Bridgeport Way, Lakewood
Hours: 11 a.m.– 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays