For well over a decade now, the Greek Islands restaurant has served up some of the best Greek grub in town to a hungry, loyal and increasingly robust clientele. Whether you’re a party of one in for a quick lunch, or a party of four in for a romantic dinner complete with bellydancing, there’s always a festive atmosphere at this happy-go-lucky eatery. And while the atmosphere of this slightly ramshackle old house on South Meridian might not exactly transport you to Capri or Mykonos, there’s not doubt that it will, for a while at least, take the edge off things if so needed.
The combo plate includes a sampling of entrees and appetizers.
Owned and operated by the larger-than-life Stergiopoulos family, the Greek Islands always seems to be running at full tilt. There’s a wonderfully endearing sense of impending crisis, of potential catastrophe, and of disaster averted, even when things are in fact running quite smoothly. Front and center is George, who has been stage-managing this carefully controlled mayhem for quite a few years now, while his parents try to take things easy and sister Angela runs the Carmel restaurant. Those acquainted with George Stergiopoulos know that he is a man of both imposing stature and intellect, which means that his opinions on just about everything are simply impossible to ignore, even if you’re in the next room. While the restaurant thrives on a lively camaraderie between owners, staff and customers, newcomers shouldn’t be deterred or intimidated. This is, after all, a Greek restaurant, where hospitality reigns and George’s bear hugs are legendary. Strangers are treated like long lost friends and, while not exactly coerced into participating in bellydances, are strongly encouraged to do so, but seldom at the risk of serious embarrassment. Come here for dinner on Friday or Saturday and it’s party central: The small dining room can get pretty lively as the saganaki (see sidebar) flares and the wine begins to flow. To start off your meal, I can wholeheartedly recommend the aforementioned saganaki, as well as the mezedaki ($10.95), a selection of appetizers, which are perfect for sharing. This dish is also referred to as mezes, and represents a great way to try a variety of tasty little dishes. These include feta cheese, an excellent tarama (cod’s roe with garlic and olive oil, an appetizer that doesn’t get much play in this market) and tzaziki (cucumber and yogurt dip). The accompanying olives are of the first order and, as always, there’s plenty of warm pita to mop things up with. In addition, you might try the excellent and succulent spanakotiropita, triangles of phyllo dough stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. As far as main courses go, I always find it hard to resist the exoheko ($12.95), which, as the menu tells us, is “pork loin sauteed in a dry red wine with celery, carrots and peas, wrapped in buttered phyllo with cheese and baked. Perfection!” There is little to add to this description apart from the fact that this dish is still every bit as delicious as ever and still one of my favorite dishes in town. In addition, chicken lovers might choose the always excellent kota ($10.50), half a bird roasted in olive oil and herbs, served with traditional green beans and roasted potatoes. If this dish sounds pedestrian, it’s really not. As with all good traditional country food, the quality of ingredients and the love and care involved in their preparation are the secrets here. The chicken is wonderfully juicy, and is never anything but thoroughly satisfying. As for the potatoes, they are delightfully more-ish. In recent months, a new salmon dish has been added to the menu, although I have yet to try it … next time, perhaps. I’m also reliably informed by George’s sister Angela that there may in the near future be some vegan Greek dishes on the menu. The mind boggles at the prospect of eating non-fattening food at this restaurant, but who knows? All entrees come with a big iceberg lettuce and feta salad, rice and vegetables. In addition, the menu offers other traditional dishes, such as pasticchio (a sort of macaroni lasagna) and moussaka (see sidebar). And let’s not forget the best gyros in town. There’s also a combination plate for $16.95, which includes just about everything on the entree menu. By the time you’ve worked your way through a few appetizers, a main course and a bottle of wine, there’s not a lot of room left for dessert. But don’t leave the Greek Islands without trying the rizogalo, a creamy and thoroughly delicious rice pudding which deserves all dessert-lovers’ attention. Hear Neil Charles each Friday morning at 9 on WXNT-AM, 1430.The Cork Dork George Stergiopoulos offers a couple of suggestions from his extensive list of over 40 Greek wines. In addition, George also promises to bring in some sweet white wines from Cyprus to add to his exclusively Greek list. Skouras Megas Oenos Red70 percent Aghiorgitiko, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. A classic wine from the Peloponnese, made primarily from Aghiorgitiko, also known as St. George (the name might be a sticking point for some) This is a very refined red, with an abundance of rich, cherry fruit coming from the St. George, and a firm, herbal and tannic backbone coming from the cabernet sauvignon. For the time being, at least, this is the benchmark for Greek reds in this market. Domaine Hatzimichalis Cabernet Sauvignon A modern, New-World style of red, aimed at an international clientele. Aged in small barrels, this concentrated, fleshy red is perfect with full-bodied dishes like roast leg of lamb. This is George’s favorite.
906 S. Meridian St. 636-0700 Lunch Monday - Friday: 11 - 3 Dinner Wednesday - Saturday 5 - 10 Food: 3 1/2 stars Atmosphere: 3 stars Service: 3 1/2 stars