In Jim Wick’s words, his new restaurant in downtown Puyallup is “sort of swanky.” I’d say that’s a pretty good way to describe It’s Greek To Me Puyallup, which opened last Monday in the space that formerly housed DeCaterina’s Market Grill and Bar (and From the Bayou before that).
If the restaurant’s name sounds familiar that’s because it’s an offshoot restaurant from Tacoma’s It’s Greek To Me, the hole-in-the-wall drive-in/walk-in Greek restaurant that Wick opened in 1991 in that tiny little building just off that weird little intersection where Sixth meets Division meets Sprague.
The Puyallup restaurant wasn’t Wick’s idea. A consultant hired by the city solicited Wick and a handful of other restaurateurs to lease the city-owned space. The process was several months long and the finalists, besides It’s Greek To Me, included a barbecue restaurant, seafood concept and a bistro. When the city council, the decision makers, evaluated the candidates, It’s Greek To Me won the lease.
As City spokeswoman Glenda Carino noted, the process was about finding a restaurant that offered a modest price point, a restaurant with funding and a restaurant that was well established. It’s Greek to Me hit all those marks.
This isn’t Wick’s first foray into a satellite operation. He also owned another It’s Greek To Me in Federal Way until he sold it in June 2009. He described that restaurant as an “in between” concept. It was neither fast food, nor truly full service. And he also ran a similarly themed It’s Greek To Me outpost from 1993-1995 in Tillicum.
But this time? This time he wanted the full deal, complete with a bar. That means a sit-down restaurant with table service, a full cocktail menu and a more complete dining experience. And what I experienced during an anonymous visit was just what Wick described in a phone interview – a polished experience from atmosphere to service to food to doting service. And about that service. Rarely do I dine at a restaurant in its first weeks and find a staff spot-on consistent with details. It’s Greek To Me was impressive. I hope that holds steady. If it does, this will become a restaurant where I spend my own dime, in addition to the company dime.
If you visited when it was DeCaterina’s, then you know that the restaurant is an interesting, artful space. That’s blatantly apparent upon entering the circular walkway that reveals swirling, beautiful mosaic tile work (follow the curve to a small, cozy nook of a bar in the corner). Look up, and your eyes will catch an impressive dangling wine bottle sculpture. A nook in the back of the dining room holds seating so private, you won’t even know it’s there until you see someone emerging from the corner. While the restaurant has interesting architectural details and the artwork is memorable, it also is a casual restaurant safe enough to dine with kids.
The dining room is long and narrow with tables placed fairly close together and the vibe can feel a little cramped when the dining room is at capacity, but it won’t bother diners unless they’re in search of a quiet corner (hey, there’s always the nook). The kitchen is partially on display and some tables show a view of the action. With cooperative weather, a street-side patio will accommodate diners. There’s also a covered patio. Wick isn’t sure how much outdoor seating he’ll offer year round. That all, he said, will depend upon the weather and how comfortable it is for diners. But now? With the beautiful weather (on and off, of course), we’ve been having, sitting outside on the patio is one of those this-is-why-we-live-here experiences.
And the menu is that of the original It’s Greek To Me – the same gyros, salads, moussaka, calamari and pizza, but just take that food you get in the drive-thru and translate it into a sit-down concept with overflowing plates at reasonable prices. And the taste? It’s just the same – punched with Mediterranean flavor, well composed, and in generous portions for the price.
We dug into a starter of calamari ($9.95) and tasted the familiar bread-crumb crusted calamari (it’s almost like panko, it’s so crispy), thinly cut strips of calamari steak that we dosed lightly with lemon. For dunking, there’s an allspice-tinged marinara and a garlic-spiked aioli, which played double dip duty for the accompanying crisp fries.
Garlicky lamb and beef gyros ($9.95) was a platter of the thinly shaved compressed meat, flanked with grill-warmed pita, a dose of not enough tzatziki cucumber-dill yogurt sauce (they’ll bring you more if you ask), seasoned rice pilaf and a choice of potatoes or green beans. It’s a meal and a half.
Lamb chops ($14.95) were the hit of our table. Six fragrant, charred chops came heavily crusted in rosemary and thyme. I gave a pass to the too-strong mint jelly, but my eyes rolled into the back of my head when I bit into perfectly medium, tender lamb chops with a knock-out herby bite. I’d order this again and again. It also came with rice pilaf and a choice of potatoes or green beans. Full meal deal? I’d say so.
Mizithra spaghetti ($8.95) wore a jacket of cheese – parmesan and creamy, rich mizithra – and was creamy with butter, garlic and olive oil. This is another dish so over-the-top good that our eyes rolled, once again, into the back of our heads.
If the food tastes so familiar, that might be because someone familiar is in the kitchen at It’s Greek To Me – Johnnie Dimakis. Twenty years ago, Wick and Dimakis opened It’s Greek To Me. They parted ways several years ago and Dimakis opened Johnnie’s Greek Café in Lakewood (which is now simply titled Greek Café and is owned by Ali Kashi, I wrote about the restaurant’s new location in this article yesterday).
“We’ve come full circle,” said Wick of working with Dimakis again. “We’re back together one way or another …. We’re both here every day. He’s taking care of the kitchen, I’m taking care of the front end. He supervises almost every meal,” said Wick. And, honestly, I could tell an experienced cook was tending the kitchen. The food was delicious. I’ll be back.
It’s Greek To Me
Where: 328 S. Meridian, Puyallup
My review of It’s Greek To Me Tacoma gyros is here.
It’s Greek To Me
Where: 1703 Sixth Ave., Tacoma