In Praise of Greek Food: The World's Best

The National Herald

(Daniel J. van Ackere/America's Test Kitchen via AP, File)

I've never eaten at Milos restaurant in New York City, nor Spondi or Funky Gourmet in Athens (closed this year to move to a new location at the Hilton) because the bank wouldn't approve a lunch loan.

But it really didn't matter because no matter how many Michelin stars these places get they won't be as good as Gus' Diner in a Harry Mark Petrakis short story, nor match the perfect lamb and spanokopita or moussaka my father would make on Sundays, along with avgolemono, often all of them at the same time.

This is more than a little tongue-in-cheek of course, although it's hard to really taste anything that way and this is the point where people who can afford even the Truffle starter at Spondi, a 60-euro ($67.81) Wild Mushroom/Potato/Chestnut/Egg Yolk will say it's just divine or maaarrveelous and the best in the world and are just waiting for someone to use molecular gastronomy to turn Greek food into a mousse you can either eat or put in your hair in a pinch.

Let's move onto the Fish & Meat menu … hmmmm (delaying while remembering how my dad's lamb would fall apart with the touch of a fork and melt in your mouth like an M & M) …. a tough call between the sea bass at 47 euros ($53.11) or the Turbot with Corn/Sesame/Shimeji/ Lemongrass for 60 euros, but let's go with that although at that price it should be Turbot-charged.

Now we're up to 120 euros for a dining experience, which is what you have at these places unlike those poor slobs at Gus' who think they're happy with a horiatiki Greek salad starter for $6, the entry fee for the places with stars.

What the hell, you only live once so throw in the trolley cheeses for 24 euros ($27.12) just to get the taste of Turbot out of your mouth. That's flat fish and pretty soon you'll be flat broke here to really understand it.

Spondi offers the Initiation menu too for 79 euros ($89.28) per person, or for 96 euros ($108.49) you get two glasses of wine too but there's no vintage listed on the menu so better hope it's from a year and not a month. I'll have the November Agioritiko, please.

For only 140 euros ($158.66) – per person – you can get the Discovery menu including foie gras, crab and pigeon, yes, pigeon, but it goes up to 215 euros ($243.66) if you add six glasses of wine. Maybe the pigeons are hand-fed by pensioners sitting on a bench in Syntamga Square, sharing the bird feed that's all they can afford thanks to every government the last nine years.

It's probably served in the Embezzlement Room where politicians robbing the country blind can sit together and boast how much they stole. Wait, is that ex-Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos over there? Please, we'll have whatever he's having and let's hope it brings the same response as Meg Ryan at Katz's Deli. Yes, yes, oh God yes! More Turbot!

Maybe I'm being too hard though because once initiated, you discover what you get is Potato

Smoked Eel/Mushroom/ Parsley/Scallop/Cauliflower/ Chive/Arenkha/Organic Chicken/Celeriac/Coconut/ Peanut/Coriander/Chocolate Araguani from Venezuela/Creamy Chocolate-Caramel/Hazelnut Crumble/Raspberry Sorbet.

Sure, it's not Greek food, but try getting that at Gus' and you have to feel sorry for the poor schmucks sitting in the Olympia Diner in Newington, Connecticut chowing down on a creamy moussaka for $12.50 or the Greek Corner in Cambridge, next to Boston, eating Dolmathes Yalantzi, grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, pine nuts, herbs and spices, served with pita bread for $6.85.

Throw in some marinated octopus for $10.90 although you haven't lived until you've tried it in Greece, watching your dinner hanging from a line outside a restaurant 10 feet from the water's edge, seeing the owner smile and point at what you'll be having if you can wait that long.

Greek-American food is one thing and Greek food another so for about $8, you can get a complete great lunch at Biftekares atop a commercial building with a view of the Acropolis, in an intimate atmosphere in what used to be a hidden canteen.

If you can find Diporto in a basement off Omonia Square, you’ll walk into a real hidden gem from another time, a funky little place with giant wine barrels where there’s pretty much revethia (chick peas) and a daily fish or sardines and where the server writes your bill on the paper table cloth. Some tourists grumble they’re being taken but they’re tourists overlooking good food so cheap you can use change in your pocket.

The best Greek food, of course, is made at home, so I get to eat my partner’s unparalleled menu that includes pork with celery, spetzofai (orange peel loukaniko with peppers and tomatoes), gemista (stuffed peppers), arnaki (lamb with oven roasted potatoes), and fasolatha (beans with vegetables).

If my dad were still here, everyone would have to hand over their crown to him because he was the King of Greek Food and in retirement would make pastitsio and moussaka and sell pieces outside Greek churches near Ft. Myers, Florida where he was living and if any restaurant with a star could match it I’d eat my hat, unless it’s already on their menu.