I woke up dreaming about dinner. Actually, it was the amazing dinner Mart and I enjoyed last night at Opa! Opa! a wonderful family owned restaurant in Gulf Gate that just smacks you over the head with the mouthwatering flavors of authentic Greek food. Would anyone notice if we went back again tonight?
Maybe using the term “smacks you over the head” isn’t the description you’d expect me to use in describing the culinary impact of Opa! Opa!, but gob smacked is a little overused, and I don’t know any Greek words that could describe the culinary delights of Opa! Opa! The restaurant looks pretty unassuming from the outside, but the minute you walk in the door and take in the beautiful murals of Greece, the aroma of freshly baked pita bread and witness servers flambéing Saganaki at the table, you’re reminded that this place is Greek from the get-go.
Passing by the “Specials Board” as we entered, Mart was intrigued by the evening’s appetizer special; fried eggplant stuffed with saganaki cheese and topped with fresh tomato and arugula. Thank goodness! This was a uniquely delicious starter, providing the melted, cheesy goodness of the goat cheese with the rich and creamy flavors of eggplant while maintaining a slight crunch to the outer edges. Knowing how easy it would have been for this dish to have a mushy texture, we knew there was a real talent in the kitchen, namely the chef/proprietor Yanni Haralampopoulos. The slight acidic taste of the tomatoes and the peppery flavor of the arugula rounded out the flavor profile to perfection, setting the standard for this evening’s feast.
But before we go into the entrees, we have to take a moment to praise Opa! Opa’s fresh, warm pita bread, which is delivered complimentary to the table. Pillowy soft, and slightly seasoned, you just know this is homemade bread. We added a small ramekin of tzatziki to dip it in, which was easily the best tzatziki either of us has ever tasted. Perhaps this is where the flavors began ‘smacking us over the head’ as the fresh garlic, olive oil, and cucumber flavors just exploded with a delightful tang. You have to order something with tzatziki on it if you go to Opa! Opa! If you don’t, well. . . you’re missing out.
Whenever we go to a Greek restaurant, I expect Mart to order a lamb dish, but I was slightly surprised at how torn he was in deciding between the lamb special, the lamb shank and the lamb chops. In the end, he went with the charbroiled chops along with a side of Greek oven potatoes, similar to roasted potato wedges, and a bowl of Avgolemono; chicken soup made with lemon, egg, and orzo. The char on the lamb chops offered a flavorful taste to the medium rare lamb, which had been marinated in lemon and olive oil, then seasoned with Greek herbs.
Opa! Opa’s menu offers a number of classic Greek temptations, including grilled octopus, Greek salad, Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves), Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese baked in a phyllo crust), lamb gyro, or chicken gyro, and Moussaka, a baked eggplant, potato and spiced ground beef dished topped with a Greek béchamel sauce. I wanted to try them all! Even the wine and beer selections are authentically Greek, with helpful comparisons of what their taste is similar to!
But when I read the menu description of the Shrimp Santorini (Chef Yanni’s favorite,) my decision was made for me! Featuring sweet gulf shrimp topped with fresh tomato, basil, garlic and feta cheese, the Shrimp Santorini is then baked to a toasty bronze! For my side items, I included a Greek salad and an order of Opa’s garlic mashed potatoes, which were ideal for soaking up the savory sauce surrounding the shrimp.
We complimented our dinner with Opa! Opa’s Feta Dessert. The chef takes a generous wedge of feta cheese, wraps it in phyllo dough brushed with sweet honey and bakes it to a golden brown, right about the time that the feta starts to melt. He then tops this crispy wedge with a fig glaze and sprinkles the top of it with chopped figs. This dessert is easily enough for two guests to share, which we did, quite happily.
Luckily for us, a neighboring table ordered the Saganaki “Opa! Opa!” so we were able to snap a photo of their goat cheese flambeed with brandy and lemon. Our server, Sybil, makes a point of announcing that she’ll be firing up the dish beforehand, so nearby guests could enjoy the experience as well.
Next time, I’ll be ordering the Saganaki Opa! Opa! . . . not for the photo op, but for the flavor. The aroma was absolutely tantalizing, just as our entire meal had been.