I waffle between being a vegetarian and being a carnivore. There are times when I cannot stomach the idea of another meat-free mealóbring on the lamb, goat, beef, fish and chicken, and make sure to char-grill it while you're at it. Then come the times when the idea that a poor little animal lost its life just to fill my greedy belly makes me wanna gag.
When I can't seem to decide one way or another, I always opt for Greek food. Something about the hearty cuisine makes me feel like I'm getting the very best of both worlds. Maybe because I can go halfway every time; blissful Greek fries drowning in lamb gravy and feta cheese being a prime example of how the Greeks manage to make me feel like I'm eating veggie style, but give me the flavor of meat that my body sometimes madly craves.
This weekend was a prime example. I could do absolutely nothing with my day until I found a deserted Greek restaurant to call home for a spell. I'd just finished moving into my new place, and after trekking up hundreds of flights of stairs, all I wanted was a veggie-heavy menu that made me think of my days spent on the remote Greek island of Paros where the wine flowed, butterflies frolicked and charred octopus appeared at every turn.
Enter Barba Yianni Grecian Taverna in Lincoln Square, a raucous, Opaa! shrieking restaurant come dusk, but plum deserted during the daytime on a Saturday. Perfect! I love being the first one in because you know the kitchen is just getting started and the I'm-over-it 'tude waiters sometimes sport after a double shift are nowhere to be seen.
By this point in our eating adventures, Lisa and I have build up a pretty standard MO. The first thing she notices is pork, pork and more pork, whereas I gravitate to things that are carb-heavy and deep-fried. Usually we meet in the middle, and this outing was no different.
After wolfing down an entire loaf of bread dunked in a small vat of olive oil and globs of butter, we decided to go for an all-veggie take on the menu (honestly, at that point, we were full anyway). A little bit of green, a little hit of starch, some hardcore fiber and a nice little salad to round it all off. How light and lovely it all sounded.
Per usual, the dishes started pouring out of the kitchen, and one after another they piled up on the tiny table. Piles of red sauce-covered green beans, oven-roasted potatoes (I'm sure drenched in pork fat), horiatiki, a robust Greek village salad (no lettuce involved) with drops of feta and loads of olive oil, and my favorite, huge gigante fava beans smothered in fresh dill.
Lisa and I were in hog heaven. I'd heard that the meat at this joint was so-so, but as far as veggies go, they had it down pat. Those soft green beans melted in my mouth and Lisa could not get past the fava beans. Everything was a total taste sensation, and by the end of the meal, our table was an outright disaster, covered in tomato drippings, bits of feta, olive oil, breadcrumbs and the random bean. Who needs meat when the table scraps are enough to make an entirely new meal?
The Final Rave: The other bonus about going all-veggie is that you roll out of the place with change from a $20 and a full doggie bag. You cannot beat that for two people.
Keep It Going:
Do it: Merz Apothecary
Greeks boast that they produce the best olive oil, so why not forgo veggies and meat and just get your fill of Greek lovin' in a bar of olive oil soap. Merz' sells it and they're practically spittin' distance from the taverna.
Eat it: Greek Islands
If you need to fill the meat craving, this popular restaurant has a most delicious lamb shank. But, really who eats meat these days?
Drive it: Psistaria
I know it's a haul up to Touhy, but this little Greek gem has the best veggie menu around. Aren't gas prices going down anyway?
Get crazy with it: Papaspiros Greek Taverna
I've raved about it before, but I have to tell you again. This place has the best Greek fries with lamb gravy. No doubt about it, you will be jonesing for them once you get a sample.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.