On a recent weeknight, with nothing in the works for cooking at home, we decided to check The Greek Taverna in a strip mall on Beneva, just north of Clark Road. We’d heard good things, after all, and from more than a few people!
As we entered the unassuming dining room, I was reminded of the typical off-the-beaten-track taverna that are so common throughout the Greek Isles, as I’d so often enjoyed while vacationing there. I was happy, yet again, seeing how Sarasota attracts food artists from around the globe!
Within a few minutes, George, the energetic patriarch of this family-run business came over, pulled up a chair and offered his recommendations on the food. George explained that The Greek Taverna is the only locally owned Greek restaurant actually owned by native Greeks, and he proudly offers a 100% authentic Greek dining experience, a focus of George’s that was well illustrated when I attempted to order wine.
While it’s been some time since since I tried a Greek Retsina wine, my recollection was that it’s an acquired taste I never acquired. When I expressed this to George, he poured a sample of Retsina that was, indeed, quite tasty. Still, I asked if they served a certain brand of wine from Italy and you’d have thought I’d mortally wounded the guy! “You didn’t come to a Greek restaurant to order “shelf wine”, did you?” George said, seriously aghast. “Don’t you want something authentically Greek?” Realizing George knows more about the subject than I do, we followed his recommendations with a glass of red and a white Greek wines which pared nicely with our meals. Sometimes you gotta listen to the locals!
A starter of Saganaki (flaming cheese) will always be de rigeur for me, and George dispatches Terry to have that prepared while we run down the mouth-watering selections on the menu.
Mart: “How is the lamb shank?”
George: “It is the best in the COUNTRY!”
In the entire country? Really? How am I NOT going to order lamb shank now? Opa!
My second consideration was the Lahano Dolmades, which George raves about and suggests Jill order it as her main course, so . . . as with the wine choice, she follows his recommendations. This is easy!
We devour the flambeed cheese swimming in a light lemon sauce within minutes, mopping up every drop with the fabulously crusty bread that was baked in-house, as is everything coming out of the kitchen.
Next up is the accompanying Greek salad course for Jill, perfectly cool, tasty and authentically Greek (as we come to expect by now), and my choice of the Avoglemono soup, another lemon based Greek classic . Yum!
Once our entrees hit the table, we already had a heightened sense of where the meal was going. George’s emphatic insistence that his was “the country’s best lamb shank” gets zero argument from me. They probably served this to the athletes at the very first Olympics, because it is truly a gold-medal quality, fall-off-the-bone, perfectly seasoned preparation if ever there was one. Opa!
Ditto for Jill’s Dolmades, which featured fresh, ground beef and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves, floating in a lemon and garlic sauce. Again, George joins us for to query about our enjoyment of the food and engage us in an amicable chat during our dinner. It certainly feels perfectly natural to be bantering between bites.
We also learn that the chef the George speaks so glowingly about of is none other than his wife, Dorothea, who doesn’t cook by recipe, but rather by her years of experience in Greece operating an identical taverna. And I would be remiss not to mention their delightful daughter, Vanessa, who also made our visit so memorable. When we commented that her dad was ‘quite the character’ she responded that he was certainly “vivid” – a perfect summation, really. We should all be so vivid!
We finish up by sharing a scrumptious home made (is there any other kind?) custard swaddled in filo dough and I compliment that with a strong Greek coffee.
So I guess it all makes sense . . . The friendly welcome, courteous service and heartfelt attention to food quality. We may as well have been dining at the family home, because that’s how this evening felt!
My suggestion? Do not miss out on this “virtual” trip to Greece the next time the mood strikes.
Bravo and efharisto to our new friends at The Greek Taverna!