If the sitcom version of "My Big Fat
Greek Wedding" hadn’t been such a flop, I’d suggest that
a television writer head immediately to Spartan Souvlaki in Dyker
Heights and start taking notes. The restaurant is the Brooklyn
version of the show, with a twist: this family affair is a seven-year
In the role of the chef is the owner, George Lykourezos, whose kitchen is partially hidden behind a counter stacked with ripe tomatoes; his wife, who acts as the hostess ringing up take-out orders, is Maria; and their daughter, Christine, stars as the dining room’s animated waitress, culinary guide and bestower of treats to the customers’ children. The stage set comes with a fancy, mural-embellished ceiling, a fireplace, and a big cage in the center of the room that holds plump, lemon-colored song birds whose tweeting competes with Greek melodies and the droning from the TV in the corner.
Lykourezos’ menu, while limited, is just as lively as the ambience.
Asked why he doesn’t serve the traditional meze like "taramasalata," the creamy dip made of red carp roe, bread crumbs and olive oil, he replies: "They get it at home."
Ditto for traditional favorites like moussaka (the layered eggplant casserole with meat and cream sauces) and "pastitsio" (pasta with meat and cream sauces flavored with cinnamon).
"They" refers to his mostly Greek clientele (although policemen of mixed ethnicities love the place, too). There’s no fish, except for octopus, on the menu, either.
"I can’t move it," he says, adding, "Kids just won’t eat fish." His customers like to visit in large family groups with everyone sharing big platters of food.
That octopus, meaty and blackened with char marks, was surprisingly moist inside. Dip the chunks into the puddle of olive oil on the plate, squeeze on a bit of lemon and sprinkle on salt, and it’s a difficult dish not to fall for.
With the octopus, the families enjoy large salads. Two salads are offered: the "Greek" with tomatoes, red onion and feta, or the "Greek American" (which is the "Greek" doctored up with big crisp squares of cucumber). Both salads are liberally dressed with olive oil and dried oregano, and they’re tasty and fresh. Both also needed salt to perk them up.
With the salads comes a basket of warm, chewy pita bread that we used to mop up the salty oil.
Dionysus would give the Liatko, a red wine from the Sitia region, served cold in a metal pitcher, a thumbs down. As the meal progressed, the wine warmed up and became drinkable. (The house will accommodate diners who like their red wine at room temperature.)
The big draw at Spartan Souvlaki is the perfectly-cooked meat dishes and the best cheese and spinach pies outside of Sparta, Lykourezos’ birthplace.
The "lokaniko" is a pork sausage, seasoned with oregano, black pepper and tiny bits of orange peel. The meat served in slices, is juicy, with the citrus cutting its richness. You can enjoy the sausage as an appetizer with just a wedge of lemon, or as an entree with salad, French fries and "horta," a green vegetable akin to escarole or broccoli rabe.
If you opt for the fries, ask for them "Greek" style. Lykourezos created the recipe of freshly cut, crisply fried potatoes doused with plenty of lemon, laced with oregano and mixed with feta cheese. They sound odd, but they’re worth a try.
The house specialty is skewers of grilled souvlaki (shish kebab). Tender white and dark meat chicken emerges from the grill smoky and emitting an aroma of oregano. The pork version is just as succulent. A dollop of "tzatziki," a yogurt dip made with cucumbers and heavily seasoned with garlic, enhances both.
Lovers of gyro, usually made from lamb molded around a spit and slow-roasted, will appreciate the beef version served here.
The meat is carved into thin strips, and it’s moist and garlicky. Folded into a slice of the warm pita, topped with tomatoes and "tzatziki," it makes a luscious sandwich.
Now about those pies. Instead of creating a big platter of the fillings with phyllo dough (paper thin, buttery sheets of pastry) and cutting them into diamonds, Lykourezos bakes the pies individually in little loaf shapes. The crusts are more like delicate puff pastry than the brittle leaves of phyllo, although they’re just as buttery. The feta used to fill the cheese pie is whipped as light as a souffle. The spinach rendition is less cheesy than I’ve had at other restaurants, which renders it airier with a cleaner vegetable taste. Both are superb.
The eatery’s one dessert, baklava, makes a worthy meal closer.
"A lady in the neighborhood" bakes the honey-drizzled layers of phyllo filled with walnuts, says Lykourezos. She does a good job. The pastry, which can be cloyingly sweet and sticky, is crisp, subtly sweet and lightly dusted with cinnamon. It pairs well with the strongly brewed coffee.
You can’t visit Spartan Souvlaki without recalling Dancing Zorba’s, the fictional eatery at the heart of "My Big Fat Greek Life," the movie’s television incarnation. Zorba’s had the same vibrant ambience, cast of colorful characters, and, I assume, food. But Dyker Heights’ long-beloved restaurant is primed for a longer run.
Spartan Souvlaki (6820 Eighth Ave. between 68th and 69th streets in Dyker Heights) accepts cash only. Entrees: $10.45-$15.75. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. For more information, call (718) 748-5838.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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