I used to date a Greek guy. (Though in all honesty, we were more like eating pals with benefits...at least in my eyes.) The best thing about our "food friendship" was all of the glorious Greek grub he turned me on to.
His mom would cook up the most amazing feasts every single day, even if it were just for her and her sweet cigar-smoking hubby. Four-course meals showed face on the table every single night, and after dinner, my little cookie would show up at my front door with tubs full of still-warm leftovers: Big loads of Greek salad with creamy feta, bits of baby goat in a rich red gravy, baked chicken covered in fresh garlic and sweet olive oil, and Greek fries splashed in oregano and lemon made their way to my tummy with unbelievable consistency.
Since we parted ways it's been hell trying to find some legit Greek home cooking. Then I happened upon a little mom-n-pop joint called Cross-Rhodes in Evanston. It looks like a pizza parlor gone Greek, but this tiny storefront has a reputation for turning out pure home-style food, just like you'd find it in the butterfly valleys of Greece.
photo: Misty Tosh
The best starter is a feta cheese-swathed Greek salad coupled with an intense lemon drenched bowl of egg lemon soup. These two, along with the warm pita bread and olive oil, could be a meal unto themselves, but how could a carb nut like me pass up the vegetarian pastitsio?
This hearty take on traditional Italian lasagna substitutes gooey cheese for a thick egg custard topping; in the end, you don't even miss the meat. Instead you get big mouthfuls of spinach, carrots, onions, mushrooms and peas with your pasta. Nice.
But the shining star flowing out of this kitchen is the magnificent ode-to-the-motherland, the house favorite Greek-style chicken. It's a pretty simple dish consisting of a crispy half chicken literally smothered in wine sauce with lemon, oregano and generous licks of salt. Of course, leave it up to those enterprising Greeks to figure out what could add to an already perfect dish. For them, it's all about the humble potato, and when it comes fried and buried under a charred bird, you have a real special concoction on your hands.
The juice from the bird and the reduced white wine sauce seeps into each individual French fry, creating this mix of crunchy and wine-drenched wet spuds all at the same time. The goal is to find the ultimate fry when you're sharing the dish, which makes for some brilliantly executed moves with the small talk. Distraction is the name of the game for an aces meal like this. With or without my food-crazy admirer, I say long live the Greeks.
The Final Rave: Seeing as they have a way with veggies, you'd think their take on minestrone soup would rock. Sadly, it tasted no better than Campbell's. Worse even.
Keep It Going:
Eat it: Yanni's Opa
It's a haul to Highwood, but I've heard the meat here is tender to the core. Wash it down with plenty of Greek Roditis.
Drink it: Tempo
The freshly squeezed juices at this late night breakfast haunt pair really, really well with its mammoth feta cheese and spinach omelette and Greek toast.
Do it: Katerina's
Friday night is Greek night. Done and done.
Get crazy with it: Greektown
Just blitz all the restaurants up and down Halsted creating your own Greek tapas route. Don't worry; there will be plenty of Greeks doing the same dang thing, so you're in good company.