Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethnic Picnic: Mediterranean

You know those gyro places in mall food courts?  They never appealed to me.  I never once had a gyro in all my life until I moved to Cincinnati.  Probably the thick pita bread wrapped around mystery meat deterred me.  Probably.

But then.  Oh, then we discovered Sebastian’s.  A literal hole-in-the-wall kind of place.  Same color theme & decorations since the 70’s (hello, orange & turquoise).  Same owner & operator all those years - Alex.  That guy was the littlest old spunky Greek guy.  And generous.  One time I came in with my husband and a few other friends but wasn’t very hungry so I didn’t order anything but fries, I think.  (We’ll get to the fries in a minute.)  So out of the overflowing goodness of his grandfatherly heart, he brought me a small basket of gyro meat because he thought I should have more than fries.  A girl’s gotta eat.  I love that kind of man.  Hard working, generous, caring.  The kind that still closes his restaurant and takes his entire family “home” to Greece for a month in August.

And yes, the fries are amazing.  I have yet to find such tasty fries.  Thick-cut steak fries seasoned with heaven-knows-what to salty perfection.  And periodically dipped in the creamy, tangy, runny cucumber sauce made a nice combo.  (I know there’s a real ethnic name for the sauce, but you all know what I mean when I say that.)  Sebastian’s is great, fast food Greek fare and thus has a loyal local following.  At times the lunch rush is standing room only, so beware and be early.

I love that Sebastian’s has a website.  This was actually quite a shocker to me since I didn’t expect it at all.  And the site has lots of great educational info and pics of the food, Alex and Sebastian’s.  (So you can really see what I mean about the hole-in-the-wall and the friendly proprietor!)  See below for website info.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about the lamb bologna that is gyro (pronounced “year-oh” for those Greek challenged of you out there) meat.  It’s neither disgusting nor mouth-watering to me.  I can eat it.  But I know that wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind if I had to order my last meal on earth.  And I tend to think it’s pretty much the same wherever you go.  Like there’s some kind of gyro meat production shop that makes it for everyone.  What do I know?  Maybe there is!  What I do know is that I absolutely can’t stand lamb.  I’ve tried it more than a few times and every time I find a nasty after taste.  Not so with this lamb bologna (usually mixed with beef & spices). 

In Omaha, we’ve found a couple of Greek places that suit us.  Jim & Jenny’s (90th & Maple) is a more sit-down type of place, with waitresses and full course Greek cuisine.  (And the prices to go with all that.)  My brother loves one of the appetizers called Saganaki Opa, which is basically melted cheese that you put on pita bread.  It’s flamed tableside, so that’s fun & fire will probably always be a draw for my brother. (Jake, of course, hates this dish.  And it is fairly strong cheese.  But I like it.  Plain, without the pita bread, of course.)  One of my favorite menu items at this venue is the Athenian salad.  There is no lettuce in this salad, just big chunks of veggies and Feta cheese, marinated in a vinaigrette dressing.  Yum.  I usually add chicken.  The baklava is amazing there as well.  (I think I’ll have to do a whole post just on baklava, so look for that.)

I did try The Greek Isles once, but wasn’t very impressed.  For one thing, their Athenian salad is basically the opposite of what Jim & Jenny’s is – a finely chopped salad with mostly lettuce.  Very disappointing.  And for the price I didn’t think the food was really worth it.  But I know some people really love it.

Recently, I tried Feta’s with a couple friends.  This is more the fast-food kind of Greek too, but done pretty well.  I got a kids-size gyro and Greek potatoes (kind of a tangy roasted potato with herbs & spices rubbed on).  The food was standard and didn’t disappoint.  Their cucumber sauce is thicker and a little less tangy than some, which was okay by me. Their baklava wasn’t my favorite.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed cinnamon in baklava before (maybe it’s always there & I just haven’t noticed but I sort of doubt it).  And theirs was over-the-top cinnamon-y.  Meh.  But we split a cream cheese dessert that was wrapped in puffed pastry and topped with mounds of messy powdered sugar and that was tasty.  Not as heavy as we’d expected and since the cream cheese filling wasn’t overly sweet, the powdered sugar complemented nicely.

If you’re in Omaha and you’re in the market for a quick, cheap Greek experience, I recommend Feta’s.  If you’re looking for authentic and have some pad to your wallet, go straight for Jim & Jenny’s.  (And enjoy the Greek restaurant atmosphere straight out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.)  I should note that the fries are fine at both places, but NOTHING compared to Sebastian’s.  He’s ruined me on Greek fries for all time.  (By being so good.  That needs to be clear.)

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