Another truth in advertising victory: Fresh Greek Grill, the new tenant of the tiny white-walled, blue-roofed building near the crazy Colesville Road-University Boulevard intersection, is all three things. Gyros, spanakopita, yep, Greek. They do grill things, including a very good cheesesteak — the unremarkable (but not bad) hoagie roll was itself grilled, a nice touch. The spanakopita triangles were fried to a deep golden brown, not the usual method I think but they tasted great, with filling more cheesy than spinachy (also not a bad thing). Good Five Guys-like fries. Solid lamb gyro. Someone in the kitchen has a deft touch with the phyllo dough: the baklava was a bit too sweet and uncomplicated for my taste (could use more nuts) but it had many many layers of phyllo, expertly constructed, and a huge portion for $2.99. The tzatziki was a bit thicker than we like, and on the bland side (needs more mint or salt or something), and the pita didn’t seem freshly baked, but that was the only thing that didn’t seem fresh. Portions are reasonable and prices are pretty good, most platters (main dish plus fries and canned soda) are $8.99, the substantial spanakopita appetizer is $5.99.
The place is quite small and lacks ambience, but what do you expect for the location, or for a divey Greek grill anywhere for that matter. Quick service, and they seemed glad for our business (they were not busy when we were there); they have been open only a couple of months. I like their simple, stylish website (much better ambience than the actual restaurant) but oddly it only includes about half the menu; I picked up the more extensive takeout menu while we were there for future reference. Closed Sundays.
Tucked away around a corner in old downtown Bethesda, Yamas Mediterranean Grill (4806 Rugby) was worth the trek, though we would order differently next time.
They have most of the usual Greek dishes — spanakopita, gyros, lots of different mezze small plates — and several traditional dishes that aren’t on the permanent menu, like moussaka and pastichio, seem to be available most of the time as specials. The gyro meat is an unusual mix (I think unusual, anyway) 70/30 beef/lamb, ground and broiled on-site, and it is really good, tender and flavorful with some delicious crisp bits. The lamb burger is okay, well-seasoned but a little overcooked, and the potato roll (normally a great burger vehicle) was neither large nor substantial enough to stand up to the burger.
Fries are made from real potatoes, Five Guys-like in texture and flavor but shoestring-style; Mrs. Me liked them a lot, I thought they were average but elevated thanks to a good dusting of feta on top. You can get feta on pretty much anything at Yamas, and I did. Next time I would skip the burger and try some of the mezze, plus more gyro.
Food aside, Yamas is a small but well-arranged, well-decorated place, and the service was excellent, though we were amused that our server kept pronouncing gyro with a “j” sound like “jelly” and also as if it rhymes with “Cairo” or “pyro” — despite the giant menu board looming over the counter, visible from all sides of the restaurant, reminding us all that it should be pronounced “yeer-oh.” Yeer-oh well…
I somehow missed Thomas Market (2650 University, near Viers Mill) when I wrote up Wheaton’s bodegas last summer (Part I and Part II). From the outside, Thomas is nondescript, unassuming, and I confess that even after someone left a comment recommending Thomas, it still never captured my attention.
Finally last week I got there, and it was worth the visit. Though one of the smallest of Wheaton’s markets, Thomas has been in business since 1965 so they must be doing something right. Indeed, their collection of Middle Eastern food, broadly construed to include not only Greek and Turkish but also Armenian, Persian, and Italian, is very good, lots of interesting fresh nuts and legumes and spices from banal to exotic, and mostly at rock bottom prices. They have the assortment of Middle Eastern dried and canned goods you would expect, plus a well-appointed freezer holding phyllo, spanikopita, sausages, etc.
The place is so small that there isn’t much room for fresh/prepared foods, but they do have some, and about half the deli counter is given to six varieties of fresh feta cheese (Greek, Bulgarian, French, American), plus olives and a few meats and cheeses. If you’re hosting a feta tasting anytime soon, this is the place to go. Looks supertasty.
I will also note that they have for sale a small but colorfully eye-catching assortment of hookahs and hookah accessories. In case you want to liven up that feta tasting. As though feta alone weren’t enough!
As we wove our way last night to the upper reaches of Silver Spring for some Greek Islands Grill (15410 New Hampshire) dining, we listened to Bob Dylan’s new Christmas CD, and couldn’t decide whether it was interesting, terrible, or a brilliantly subversive practical joke (i.e. could the Jewish Dylan be destroying Christmas songs on purpose?). Poor Bob’s voice has declined, he warbles like the whiskey-and-cigarettes-soaked love child of Tom Waits and Jiminy Glick. This would be okay, possibly great, if he had put any effort into interpreting any of the songs, but everything is sung totally straight. The arrangements are cool, the backing vocals are sweet, and all the proceeds go to charity. But it sounds like Bob just went through the motions. Unless the whole thing is tongue in cheek, in which case…hmm.
But this is not a Bob Blog, so on to the Greeks. We last week to Greek Island Grill several years ago and enjoyed the enormous lamb shank platter, which is a “special” but always available. A friend got it again last night but it didn’t seem quite as big or as savory as before. Pastitsio was fine although could have done without the tomato sauce on top (is that traditional? My Greek friends make it with only white sauce). French fries are good but in a Simploty kind of way. All the side vegetables are nice (green beans, roasted potatos, etc.), they do a good dolmades, and the calamari (or as they say “kalamari”) appetizer was hot, clearly right out of the fryer, lightly breaded, not overcooked, and very tasty. The bread was fresh, hot and excellent. I think on future visits we will explore more of the appetizer menu, as that seems to be a strength based on limited sample size.
The restaurant is in kind of a strange spot at one end of a strip mall, with the entrance on the side rather than the front. Inside, it has lots of booths, white table cloth but not in a overtly fancy way, and just a tasteful hint of the stereotypical Greek restaurant blue-and-white extravaganza. Overall, a swell dining environment. Service was attentive but sometimes forgetful (had to ask for olive oil five times), and only maybe six or seven tables were occupied at 8:30 on a Friday night, which seems like a bad sign to me. Despite being uneven, Greek Islands is a nice restaurant to have in greater Silver Spring, so I hope they make it through the recession.