Since opening a couple of years ago at the north end of Shelby Street on the corner of Fountain Square, much has changed at Santorini Greek Kitchen. For starters, the food, prepared by restaurant veteran Taki Sawi and his wife Jeanette, has improved considerably, and it was pretty darn good to start with. In addition, this modestly-sized eatery has become so popular with locals that, not only has the dining area expanded outdoors, but the Sawis will be opening a new location just around the corner on Sept. 12.
Jeanette and Taki Sawi pose in the dining room of their restaurant.
Fountain Square has without doubt come a long way in the past five years or so, with Santorini Greek Kitchen assuming a strong position as one of its cornerstones. This has to be a tough location for a restaurant of any kind, considering first of all the stigma of being located south of downtown and secondly its physical location on a busy, dusty and occasionally noisy intersection. But don’t let appearances fool you, because beneath this unassuming exterior lurks some of the very best Greek food in town. And not just that. This is actually one of the more enjoyable restaurants in town, period, and it is my firm opinion that, should you happen to live clear up in the hinterlands of Fishers or wherever, you should seriously make an excuse to hitch up the wagon and get down there for a bite to eat. It’s that good. With the exception of a few extra dishes, the dinner menu here is more or less the same as the lunch menu, but with accordingly larger portions and higher prices. A good way to fully experience the pleasures of Santorini, as I did recently with Chef R.C., is to pick a day when you don’t have to go back to work after lunch, then settle in for the long haul. You should, of course, also dive in for a quick bite at every opportunity, but I’m talking about soaking in the entire experience, a process that takes time and a sense of well-being, two things that are not generally in good supply during the average workday lunchtime. A good way to approach the appetizers is to try the mezadaki platter ($10.95 lunch and dinner), a burgeoning plate of hummus, tzaziki, feta and olives. Alternatively, you can, as we did, pick three appetizers off the menu for $12.95. We chose the dolmades, baba ganoush and tiropita. To say that the housemade dolmades, grape leaves wrapped around ground beef and rice, were thoroughly excellent would be to understate the case. Generously proportioned, firm and crunchy in texture and perfectly seasoned, these were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Honest. As for the baba ganoush, this garlicky eggplant dip was absolutely magnificent. This is a dish which often tastes like damp cardboard and engine oil. Not here. Seldom have I heard such rhapsodic praise stream from chef R.C.’s lips as when he tasted this glorious concoction for the first time. After a small and refreshing Greek salad, which comes with the main course, we headed into the entrées. The chef, a lamb aficionado, went for the roast leg of lamb ($7.95 at lunch, $12.95 at dinner) while I opted for the combination platter, which consists of moussaka, pasticchio, gyro meat, tiropita and spanakopita. All this comes for just $9.95 at lunch and $17.95 at dinner. In addition, entrées also come with rice, green beans and those wonderful roasted Greek potatoes that I never seem to be able to get right at home. Unfortunately I’m not able to provide you with much information about the lamb dish, suffice to say that I assume it was very good, because my luncheon companion wouldn’t let me try any of his. Before I had an opportunity to expound upon the virtues and principals of sharing, whoosh, it was all gone, and I was left merely with scraps as evidence of its purported excellence. As for the sampler platter: the moussaka was rich, creamy and very easy on the tastebuds; the two phyllo-wrapped dishes were close to perfection — buttery, flaky, well-stuffed, thoroughly tasty. And let me add, lest I forget, the pita bread served here is without doubt the best in town. Warm and soft, it almost melts in the mouth (but not in your hands.) Vast, filling and eminently flavorful, our main courses were uniformly terrific. By now you will see why the complete dining experience at Santorini needs a little time to savor. There’s a lot of food, and all of it is good. With over twenty dinner entrées and almost as many appetizers, a meal here can be a serious undertaking, should you so desire. Whatever you decide to eat, however, make sure you save room for desserts. The Galaktabouriko, which sounds like a cocktail from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but which is actually a custard dessert, is worth the trip alone. The new location will feature a similar menu and a full bar. Run, don’t walk.