Soul food is more than fried chicken and collards. Soul food can be, for instance, lamb souvlaki. More precisely, it can be Kody Harris's $9.50 lamb souvlaki grilled at fast-casual Greek eatery Fresko Mediterranean Kitchen in Ahwatukee.
Chunks of lamb line the pita's fold. (Or a skewer — but I went pita.) Some are so huge that you've got to tackle them in two bites. They have fattiness and good chew, and a nutty, wild aroma tells you, each time you bite in, that you're in a zone way apart from chicken or beef. You get even more soft, oozing textures from the tzatziki and feta, hot richness anchored by scant tomatoes and onions.
Yep. Soul food.
"My parents are from Greece," Harris says, describing what she cooks at Fresko. "This is my soul food. This is what I cook at home, and this is what my family cooked when I was a kid."
Harris's mom comes from Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. Her dad comes from a Tripoli, a town in southern Greece near Sparta. Long after moving to the U.S., her dad came to own ten restaurants in Oregon, a stable highlighted by diners. Harris started working in them when she was 8.
Food was serious in her house. Her dad kept goats in the basement so he could make fresh feta. (The animals pastured during the day.) Her family made meals largely of produce they had grown.
This is the kind of background that informs the cooking at Fresko. Fresko, which means "fresh" in Greek, has a menu 80 percent Greek and 20 percent pan-Mediterranean. All Greek eats come from Harris's family recipes.
Harris opened Fresko last November, after decades of experience as a corporate chef. Both the soul angle and modern restaurant sensibilities are reflected in the low-key restaurant.
And the souvlaki rocks.
Souvlaki is a common casual Greek dish of grilled meat. At Fresko, where souvlaki melds with the fast-casual style, you can go for chicken or lamb. If you go lamb, you'll be lunching on an animal raised in Colorado. Harris sources whole lamb shoulders and legs, then marinates them for 24 to 36 hours. The marinade is simple: olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper.
"It's all simple," Harris says, "because that's how we ate growing up."
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Tabouli, one of the non-Greek 20 percent, is also simple. Harris's take is the classic fresh, parsley-flecked salad of bulgur and minced vegetables. She also looks past Greece to make falafel, which she fries from chickpeas in the Israeli style-style. True, a few Greek specialties such as moussaka (eggplant casserole) hover above the $10 mark. But below, you can find the usual Grecian hits: spanakopita, gyro, stuffed grape leaves...
Bougatsa is a nice exclamation point to lunch at Fresko. "Bougatsa is a classic Greek pastry from the northern section of Greece," Harris says. "My mom used to make it as a mid-morning snack."
Lemon-vanilla custard fills a square of phyllo dough that Harris gives a quick toast for warmth. The custard has been thickened with semolina, to roughly the consistency of cheese. Powdered sugar and cinnamon coat the top. It's not all that sweet but has delicate flavors and lots of soul.
Fresko Mediterranean Kitchen. 5033 East Elliot Road; 480-940-3669
Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.