jump to navigation

Olga’s Kitchen still winning converts with secret bread recipe January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
comments closed

Funny how a good food idea can last. Take the Olga’s Kitchen concept invented in 1970. Olga’s Kitchen chain founder Olga Loizou took the Greek restaurant idea popular in the Detroit area, Americanized and standardized it, and created a wrap sandwich with a bread that was thicker and sweeter than traditional pita bread.

Olga’s wrap sandwiches are still winning converts. During the first visit to an Olga’s Kitchen at The Crossroads mall recently, marveled at the concept of a hamburger and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in a wrap form. The bread was sweet and chewy. The warmth of the bread also helped to melt the peanut butter in the PB&J to create a new sandwich delight. Loved seeing the bread grilled in the kitchen area of the restaurant.

What’s that special Olga bread made of, anyway? Whatever it is, the folks at the Olga’s Kitchen headquarters in Troy aren’t about to give up any information about it. Director of marketing Steven Frank said that the bread is made daily “in a locked room” and that the dough is then shipped out to the 29 Olga’s Kitchen locations to be formed and cooked at the restaurants. “I like not knowing the recipe,” Frank said. “I don’t have to lie about not knowing it. People ask me all the time.”

After all these years, the Original Olga, the wrap with the seasoned beef and lamb, onions, tomatoes and Olgasauce, is still the best-seller at the restaurant.

Loved the Orange Cream Cooler, another Olga signature item. My companion, who was an Olga’s Kitchen line cook about 20 years ago said the Orange Cream Cooler tasted better years ago. She suspected the Orange Cream Coolers of today are made with a mix. That’s anybody’s guess, since management isn’t talking about that recipe either.

My companion ended up getting the Open Face Olga Meal, which comes with two items. She selected the small Olga salad, a Greek-like salad and the spinach pie, which all tasted fine. There was enough meat in the meal to share. I first ordered the Roast Beef and Burnt Onion Wrap because cooks really do slowly saute the onions, and I’m a fan of the sweet caramelization that results from the process.

But I changed my mind when I saw a middle-aged East Indian-American woman tackling the roasted veggie pesto sandwich with knife and fork. Glistening and charred chunks of squash, peppers, carrots, red onions and tomatoes spilled out of the rolled Olga bread as the woman cut and ate the dish, patiently savoring every bite. The dish is one of Olga’s newer items.

Service was lackluster. Our server did not appear interested in telling us about the food beyond what was on the menu.

Children’s Surprise Meals include a children’s sandwich or bowl of soup with either french fries, salad or applesauce. Items that have been recently added to the Olga’s menu include the white bean chicken chili, the SLT (salmon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) and the SBLT (salmon, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

Olga’s Kitchen, The Crossroads mall, 6650 S. Westnedge Ave. Phone: 327-1616.


Old favorite serves comforting cuisine January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
comments closed

After some 20 years in business, Froso’s in Marysville continues to be a good place for lovers of rib-sticking Italian and Greek food.

Froso’s in Marysville. Froso’s, according to our server, has been open for about 20 years, serving Greek and Italian favorites, and the current owner of nine years kept the recipes and menu.

One page of the menu is dedicated to pizza. Toppings include everyone’s favorites, such as pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and olives. Then, there’s the Greek side to pizza with feta cheese and gyros-style grilled beef or smoked chicken.

The rest of the menu includes the traditional sandwiches, soups, salads, main dishes and desserts, and all of the categories have Italian and Greek choices. For those of you who haven’t tried anchovies, they’re served at Froso’s as an appetizer in olive oil and lemon.

The Greek salad, which is made with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, chopped egg and a broiled chicken breast topped with feta cheese, olives and pepperoncini, sounded very good and isn’t a common menu item. Another dish that caught my eye was the Greek spaghetti because it’s made with fresh basil and garlic sauteed in olive oil and topped with feta or mizithra cheese.

One of the house specials that seems out of place among all the Italian and Greek choices is the barbecued baby back ribs in hickory-smoke sauce with a side of fries or spaghetti. That also sounded good, but I was there for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

That plate of spaghetti and meatballs wasn’t going to happen for this dinner because my friend wanted to try the baked pasta, which is spaghetti or rigatoni in marinara sauce or meat sauce with mozzarella cheese. Once the ingredients are assembled, the dish is baked, which helps the ingredients blend and makes the dish even tastier. How could I say no to such a great choice?

In the interests of trying a variety of selections, I passed on the spaghetti and meatballs and instead ordered the Greek chicken, which is one of my favorite Greek dishes, even though I knew I couldn’t finish the dish because it’s one-half a bird. The chicken is coated with Greek herbs then roasted to a crispy finish. It is served with garlic potatoes or spaghetti, and I asked for the spaghetti.

Both of us decided the soup of the day, split pea, sounded too heavy, so we ordered a house salad. My friend ordered the house Italian dressing and I had the house Gorgonzola dressing. It doesn’t matter which one you get; they’re both terrific.

My friend’s baked spaghetti was delicious. In fact, I had to have a couple of extra bites so I dipped my garlic bread into his sauce. My Greek chicken was flavorful, tender and, of course, too much for one sitting, so some went home in a box.

By the time you visit, holiday decorations will probably be untwined from the grape garlands and statuettes of Greek gods that adorn the booth dividers, and hopefully your New Year’s diet will include a plate of spaghetti at Froso’s.

314 State Ave., Marysville; 360-659-9222 Specialty: Greek and Italian cuisine.

Proud Greeks > NY Nat’l Guard Commissions 1st Greek Orthodox Chaplain January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora.
comments closed

When the Rev. Dionisios Marketos was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the New York National Guard recently he became the first Greek Orthodox chaplain in the New York National Guard’s 150-year history, according to First Lieutenant Peter S. Giakoumis of the New York National Guard 4th Platoon, D Company.

“Within a year, Rev. Marketos will become a captain of our brigade,” Giakoumis, a Whitestone resident, said. Marketos, who is from the village of Elata, Chios, and his family reside in Astoria and Mattituck, Long Island.

The commissioning ceremony was performed on Sunday, December 17 at the Philoptohos Ladies Society social in the church hall of the Transfiguration of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Mattituck. A free luncheon of Greek cuisine was served to the community under the supervision of Philoptohos President Virginia Tripolitis and the ladies of the community.

“The New York Guard will become the premier state defense force in the nation,” Major General Michael R. Van Patten said on October 2. “The force will be comprised of fully trained personnel, ready to respond immediately to state emergency, and homeland defense missions, as directed by the governor and the adjutant general. The New York Guard personnel will be individually and collectively qualified and resourced to seamlessly take on mission responsibilities in support of the National Guard and civil authorities.”

For more information on the National Guard, visit www.DMNA.state.ny.us

Axia Taverna in Tenafly January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
comments closed

When we entered Axia Taverna, we thought we’d passed through a time tunnel. Instead of the usual anxious hostess presiding over an all-but-empty weeknight dining room, this one raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“No reservation?” she asked. She looked around, with nary an empty table in sight. “Let me see what I can do.” We repaired to the bar, of warmest walnut, set off from the dining room by glass-walled cabinets containing wine bottles that seemed to float. Twenty minutes later, she found us a table. So what’s the secret? How does Axia attract weekend crowds all week long?

A buzz surrounds this three-month-old restaurant, an inspired renovation of a large, old house in Tenafly. The design is exciting, from the moment one pulls open the startlingly tall, two-story wooden doors and ascends wide stone steps toward a free-standing circular fireplace. The mostly attentive service shows how effective it is to have an owner or manager in charge at the front of the house, keeping an eye on the dining room.

And the food coming out of the kitchen, borne to the table by runners directly from the grill or oven, is original, fresh and, often, sublime. There are marriages of flavor that stop conversation with their intense purity: Orange, mint and honey drenching a baked cheese, for example, or ouzo’s fragrant anise paired with cooling cucumber, or salty roe with smoky pita.

Executive chef Alex Gorant is clearly not re-creating his grandmother’s recipes but improvising new melodies from their Hellenic notes. “If I were in Greece, I could make these dishes,” he says, because the ingredients are all Greek. But the way he uses them is entirely his own.

The menu is different in another way, too: Rather than offer appetizers and entrees, it lists small plates and big plates. Diners can order several small plates to share, like tapas, or a combination of small and big plates to eat family-style, or individual dishes for themselves.

Our waiter wasn’t quite with the program, though, and balked when the number of big plates didn’t match the number of diners. I insisted; he gave way, but I found the pushiness somewhat off-putting.

The service, which likely will be smoothed out as the restaurant settles into a rhythm, is the one caveat I have with Axia. At the beginning of the meal, the waiters hover, bringing bread and olive oil, taking drink orders, serving appetizers and replenishing water. By the time dessert has been served and one is anxious for the check, however, it can be hard to get their attention.

Gorant’s signature dish may be his ouzo-cured salmon, served as a small plate. The rose-colored salmon has the tenderness and consistency of good prosciutto after its house-curing with the Greek liqueur and coriander, fennel, salt and sugar. Four discs of cucumber are topped by narrow strips of salmon that have been rolled around a delicate section of orange and placed atop a smear of yogurt. The contrasting textures and tastes arouse the palate, a perfect invitation to the meal to come.

Haloumi Fournou, a baked Cypriot cheese, is another exquisite composition. The sheep’s-milk cheese is so firm that it won’t melt through the grate of a grill. In this small plate, little golden cubes have been baked and set afloat in a glaze of mint, honey and orange.

Taramosalata is a cool, creamy dip with lumps of roe and lobster, served with smoky grilled pita. Cheese pies, Spiriki Tyropita, are plump pillows of molten goat cheese encased in delicate phyllo. It would be pure pleasure to make a meal of these “mezedes,” which include flaming cheeses, stuffed grape leaves and lamb meatballs. But then one would miss the big plates.

The grill is put in full use, with a choice of chicken, salmon, pork tenderloin, beef rib-eye and porterhouse of lamb. Portions are generous and come with “Ionian” fries and dill- and lemon-scented yogurt. Whole fish, at market prices, also are available.

Most intriguing among the other big plates was Ortykia Chios or roasted quail. The dainty birds were deboned and stuffed with an apple, fig and pine nut stuffing seasoned with masticha, a pine resin unique to the island of the chef’s mother. It has a clean, pine-needle flavor, which Gorant also employs in his homemade ice cream.

Salmon married well with its crusting of olives and a cheesy sauce, atop a bed of spinach rice pilaf, in Solomos Kalamata. And Pastichio Rhodos was elegant Greek comfort food. Phyllo dough encased pasta and a rich meat sauce, looking much like a baked brie, except this had a cinnamon stick and a basil leaf as garnish.

Sweets, or “glyka”, offer more opportunities for culinary adventure, from feta ice cream to rice pudding seasoned with black pepper and chamomile. The apple pastry recommended by the waiter was a good bet, cored rings of apple were dipped in batter and fried like a zeppole, then drenched in honey and sprinkled with walnuts and cinnamon. It arrived at the table still sizzling.

In Greece, the word “axia” means “worthy.” It’s an appropriate name, as this warmhearted restaurant is definitely worthy of attention.

18 Piermont Road, Tenafly, 201-569-5999, www.axiataverna.com
Recommended dishes: Solomos Methysmenos (ouzo-cured salmon), Haloumi Fournou (baked Cypriot cheese), Ortykia Chios (roasted quail), porterhouse of lamb. Wine list: Extensive, most from Greece.

Thira Restaurant in Hallandale Beach January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
comments closed

It is appropriate that Thira is named after one of the most popular and beautiful of the Greek Isles.

Santorini is actually a group of five islands of which Thira is the most important, and in many ways, it is emblematic of Greece, a photograph of Santorini was used in Greece’s travel marketing campaigns for many years.

Thira is a lively restaurant on a busy corner and it pulls in a good-sized crowd most nights, though it has painfully little atmosphere and none of the visual appeal of its namesake. Diners congregate in two areas, choosing either an expansive outside dining area on a terracelike platform and an inside dining room that is notable only for the deafening volume generated by the sound reflecting tile with which it is lined.

The staff at Thira is quick without being pushy and they do a good job of explaining the different dishes on the menu. What they don’t explain is why so many dishes seem to lack simple touches that would make the dining experience more authentic. The restaurant serves a terrific hummus with a sharp lemony tang and a ferocious garlicky bite, but instead of offering it with pita bread, it comes with a loaf of warm French bread. Tzatziki, the yogurt, cucumber and garlic spread, is surprisingly thick and the garlic is overpowering, but it still makes for a refreshing accompaniment to many dishes on the menu.

Saganaki is a popular appetizer in many Greek bars, where a slab of kefalotiri, a semi-hard cheese, is fried, squirted with lemon and then usually flamed with Greek brandy. Thira also makes a version with feta and neither is flamed, a process that would have added some additional flavor as well as a bit of theatricality. The feta version is sprinkled with olives, peppers and tomato and offers little in the way of culinary interest beyond being reminiscent of a melted Greek salad.

Another puzzling starter is spanakopita a good-sized piece of spinach “pie” filled with a mixture of sauteed spinach and herbs, usually mint, onions and some feta. This filling is wrapped in a phyllo crust, though at Thira the crust lacks flakiness, appearing to the eye and palate much more like a solid piece of pastry with a soggy bottom. The filling flavors are good but the dish as a whole is disappointing.

Among seafood dishes, the best options are the most straightforward. Salmon is simply grilled, and swordfish is grilled and offered with a tangy tomato and olive sauce. Shrimp are disappointingly overcooked in a pan-fried dish with garlic sauce and, like nearly every main course at Thira, the fish comes with overcooked rice and a limp and lackluster vegetable that looks and tastes like overseasoned and overcooked canned green beans. This isn’t the freshness I’ve always associated with dining in the Greek Isles.

Meat dishes fare better. Souvlaki is a dish of meat marinated in oil, herbs and spices then grilled. Chicken, beef and pork are all tender and flavorful. Kebabs are very similar without quite so heavy a marinade and with the meat, chicken, beef and lamb, alternating with bits of pepper and onion on the skewer. These are the best dishes on Thira’s menu and are worth a stop despite the other dishes that fall short of expectation.

Thira has a small list of Greek wines, many of which are overpriced but still interesting by the glass. Boutari’s merlot matches nicely, even with many of the seafood dishes.

Thira is boisterous fun but I’m still looking for the restaurant that can re-create the freshness of the flavors that come as a matter of course in the home country.

100 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale Beach, 954-454-9676

Monastiraki > in the heart of Athens January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
comments closed

48 hours spent in a melting pot of eras, ethnicities, faces and styles, where every facet of the city seems to be reflected in every corner

The barker’s voice penetrated my mind like a scene from a bad dream: «We’ll find something for you, pal. Come in. We’ve got loads more stuff, come in and have a look.»

I was 15 and I’d gone to Monastiraki with a classmate to buy a double-breasted jacket in fake leather because I needed somewhere to put my huge sew-on Clash patch and some pins. «Flight jackets, Doc Martens.» The barker had maneuvered us into the Top Man store and we came out with a Ramones-style jacket that cost me around 3,500 drachmas. It was a fantastic day, until we spotted some skinheads beating up a guy with long hair outside the Clock fast-food place. We dodged them and got away along Adrianou Street.

Friday noon > The barker has gone gray and the flight jackets and Doc Martens are museum pieces, though Converse All Stars are back in fashion. Cowboy boots with a buckle on the ankle (made in Greece, if you please) have disappeared off the face of the earth.

Today’s 15-year-olds buy Vans and wide pants and listen to hip-hop. At the top of Iphestou Street, Germanos is selling mobiles like hot cakes, while the cream of society eats at the famous souvlaki outlets in the square. An American asks me courteously where he can find «old rock vinyl.»

Saturday 2 p.m. > Monastiraki isn’t punk, or rock, or hip-hop; it isn’t even the home anymore of Spyros Koemtzis, now an old man, who sells his autobiography from a little table next to the station. He is not an attraction to the tourists who are seeking the hot spots of Athens as listed in their guidebooks.

Outside the station, girls wait for their friends; boys light up another cigarette and stare at the clock. Thanks to the metro, this spot has gained something of the status that the Bakakos pharmacy once had in Omonia Square, a rendezvous point for generations of Athenians.

A group of Indians from the Andes, dressed like Indians from Arizona, play good music. The asphalt shudders as a train runs through the bowels of the earth. A Gypsy raver has been following me for 10 minutes, trying to sell me a watch for only 10 euros, «down from 1,000. Give me whatever you’ve got. Haven’t you got 100?» Then he opens up a bag with three packages: «Perfume, mate. Give one to your girlfriend.»

A television crew is getting ready to work; two Africans approach to sell me CDs; a City of Athens police officer shoos them away while talking on her radio. Some people laugh as former Greek pop and disco star Yiannis Floriniotis walks down Iphestou wearing multicolored trousers and huge glasses. The sound of the bouzouki mingles with the beat of techno. Pigeons dive; a dog strolls by; cockroaches scuttle past.

The Army Shop, Handres and Top Man are doing good business. A saleswoman who has popped out to buy some bananas sighs as she looks at the Mosque of the Lower Fountain (also knows as the Tzistaraki Mosque). Legend has it that the mosque was built in 1759 with lime mixed with one of the columns of the temple of Olympian Zeus. As if cursed, it has gone unnoticed by Athenians for the last 200 years, even though it houses the Folk Art Museum.

Sunday 1 a.m. > There’s a traffic jam on Ermou Street. Some drivers blast their horns while others are cuddled up to the boyfriend or girlfriend in the seat next to them. Groups of women laugh so hard that they drown out the deafening sound of Yiannis Ploutarchos’s song «Aimorrago» (I Hemorrhage) coming from a Citroen.

On the corner of Athinas and Ermou someone else is playing hip-hop so loudly that the ground shakes. Lights, shadows, women in high heels, BMWs and starlets, Ermou is a torrent of images.

A friend who remembers what Psyrri was like before it became so popular says «the old places, the good ones, have moved to the other side of Ermou and disappeared into the alleyways.» Oinothiki in Avyssinias Square still has its own alternative clientele. And Kyvos (on Thiseiou Street) with a fabulous terrace overlooking the Acropolis is doing well. Others prefer the gay-friendly Magaze further up Aeolou Street, or have moved away altogether to the bars of Praxitelous Street and Karytsi Square. At this hour there’s another kind of entertainment going on at Savva, Thanassi and Bairaktari, with kebabs, pitas and lots of popular music.

Sunday at dawn > The 025 bus goes down Mitropoleos Street and turns onto Aeolou. Bairaktari still has customers at five tables and the waiters have gathered into groups to chat: the Eastern Europeans to the right, the English speakers to the left. A man is cleaning the street with a high-pressure hose and a sour, damp smell rises from the asphalt. The trash is piled into heaps and a cleaning woman hauling huge bags slowly starts work.

On Ermou and Athinas, everyone is looking for cabs. «Is there something wrong with us?» yells one youth, who has gone into the middle of the road in the attempt to hail a cab. His friend responds with a tired laugh. Two young women come out of the station on Athinas where they’ve been to repair their makeup. They yawn. Another group seems fed up with waiting for a cab and crowd onto the escalator at the station. The exit on Themidos Street has become a bench for a large group of 20-somethings who are eating sandwiches and cheese pies. All around are torn posters, soda bottles, beer cans and sandwich wrappers.

«Kolonaki!» A cab stops. «Papagou!» Negotiations ensue. The next cab driver waits while one woman kisses all her friends good-bye, one by one, before getting into the cab. At the Grigoris and Everest takeout shops, those prepared for a long wait are ordering coffee.

Iphestou is deserted, leaving a melancholic but not entirely unpleasant feeling. At one end, a salep seller silently waits for customers. On Avyssinias Square, old cars unload secondhand goods for sale: antique trombones, charcoal-fired metal, picture frames, pitchers and lancets from the days when bleeding was used to treat every ailment.

On Astygos Street you can find faucets, wheels and woodcarvings. The stores are starting to roll up their shutters. It’s dawn and Thiseion across the way looks like a painting.

The sound of the electric train sets the tempo and the clock of Aghios Philippos at the end of Iphestou chimes the time. Seven! Mist covers the Ancient Agora. In the church’s tiny, almost hidden courtyard, a priest opens the door and asks the man from the kiosk next door who is sorting the Sunday papers about a woman who is ill. His wife? Sister? The interior of the church is illuminated only by candles; two youngsters with excellent voices are singing.

Mr Costas the verger fixes coffee for the priest. I stop and watch, enchanted. Outside the secondhand dealers are drinking coffee and buying cigarettes. Two drug addicts lie motionless on the steps of Cafe Monastiraki. They’ll be woken by passers-by out for a walk, would-be collectors who buy whatever rubbish is on offer, collectors who come down to see that there are no real antiques anymore, and the tradesmen. Africans will start arguing with Pakistanis over a small space to lay out their wares. «It’s like the flea market in San Francisco or Camden in London; I love it!» said the American I met on Friday, who turned out to be a well-known designer of rock group posters. I smiled at him as we searched for old rock vinyl, next to Zacharia and Tzamba. «Don’t bet on it,» I said as I grabbed a copy of the single «Rock the Casbah» by the Clash.

KVLU to sponsor Smithsonian travel adventure to Greece January 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
comments closed

Lamar University public radio KVLU will host a Smithsonian “travel adventure” through Greece this fall.

Sponsored in conjunction with Collette Vacations, the nine-day tour, “Greece: Footsteps through Time,” will depart Sept. 20, 2007, for Athens. The odyssey will feature day tours to some of this region’s most historic sites including the Acropolis, Delphi, the 3,000 year-old Lions Gate in the ancient city of Mycenae, the Temple of Poseidon and a day cruise around the Saronic Islands, the location of some of Greece’s most important archaeological sites.

“Smithsonian Travel Adventures offer the best in educational travel all over the world,” said Melanie Dishman, station manager for advancement and the tour’s coordinator. “These tours excel in local expert guides and speakers who really make the difference between simply seeing and truly understanding your destinations.”

To provide more details about the trip, KVLU and tour representatives will host an information meeting at 4 p.m.Wednesday, Jan. 17, at Katharine & Company, 1495 Calder at MLK Jr. Parkway in Beaumont.  Anyone interested in taking part in this special tour is encouraged to attend the meeting, Dishman said.

“Anyone who has the slightest interest in discovering Greece should really attend the meeting,” said Dishman. “We’ll be able to answer all your questions and there will be a slide show with highlights from the tour.”

One does not have to be a member of KVLU to participate in the trip, she said. For more information, you may contact Dishman at (409) 880-8164 or visit the KVLU web site.  Member-supported KVLU is at 91.3 on the FM dial.

Related Links >