First Taste

First Taste: Kavala Restaurant & Café Is Greek Comfort Food Ideal for Cheat Day

A takeout haul from Kavala Restaurant & Café.
A takeout haul from Kavala Restaurant & Café. Lauren Cusimano
When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

Restaurant: Kavala Restaurant & Café
Location: 1455 West Elliot Road, Gilbert
Open: About two months
Eats: Greek-meets-Italian comfort food
Price: $12 to $50
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

I’ve not dined out since March, but I wish I could have stayed at Kavala Restaurant & Café, which is cool, quiet, and decked out with a white-and-blue theme that does its best to transport you to an actual Greek eatery. Large landscape photos of a Mamma Mia!-esque scene are wallpapered throughout.

click to enlarge The cool and inviting dining room at Kavala in Gilbert. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The cool and inviting dining room at Kavala in Gilbert.
Lauren Cusimano
Instrumental hip hop played at a soft volume. A separate coffee bar was with neatly arranged ingredient mugs and coffee machines. Navy, velvety booths looked plush and ultra-inviting. I ached to stay and get a server’s attention. But thanks to a ruthless pandemic and a mother-in-common-law’s birthday, we had to grab and go —  and drive 15 minutes before we could eat.

Some dishes just didn’t make it.

The wounded included a caprese panini — Buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar. The Texas Toast-like bread was puffy and a joy, and the innermost bites were cheesy and flavorful. Unfortunately, the outside bites were devoid of any of those listed ingredients. Just mouthfuls of bread. The heirloom tomatoes — and there were only a few them — didn't really work with this panino, either.

click to enlarge The sad shrimp. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The sad shrimp.
Lauren Cusimano
A straight-up casualty of travel time was the side order of grilled shrimp with tahini sauce: four supposedly lemon-garlic-seasoned, medium-to-smallish shrimp skewered over some wilted greens. While the tahini sauce was good (good enough to be used with some other dishes, even) the shrimp dish was sad. And at nearly $8, pretty disappointing.

However, there were successes.

The steak shawarma platter was killer. This was yogurt-marinated slices of shawarma gyro, heavily layered over basmati saffron rice. The portion was huge, able to be split between three people and nicely making up for the sad shrimp. The thins slivers of steak were as soft and flavorful as advertised, and the rice reminded me of the classic Mahatma yellow seasoned rice (though it’s hard to beat a fresh serving of that stuff).

A Greek lamb burger also made it nicely to the dinner table. This was an 8-ounce lamb patty joined with a super soft bun and topped with arugula and feta cheese. That feta really stood out in this dish.

click to enlarge Yogurt-marinated slices of shawarma gyro, heavily layered over basmati saffron rice. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Yogurt-marinated slices of shawarma gyro, heavily layered over basmati saffron rice.
Lauren Cusimano
The verdict may still be out on the Pastichio Bechamel — the Greek lasagna and a signature dish at Kavala. This is the order I most hope to eat one day fresh from the kitchen. It’s an oven-baked dish packed with soft penne pasta, layers of creamy bechamel sauce, Italian cheeses, and minced beef. The top was a heavy layer of cheese, as appealing as any drunken slice of plain cheese pizza. It was good at home, but I suspect would have been exceptional in-house.

Each bite of this Greek lasagna was comfort food in its highest form — all carbs and creams and cheese. It was good enough to sneak cold bites of later as it was being packed for the fridge. It will reheat well.

click to enlarge The entirely comforting Pastichio Bechamel. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The entirely comforting Pastichio Bechamel.
Lauren Cusimano
Kavala Restaurant & Café serves an interesting hybrid of Greek and Italian dishes, leaning more Greek than I originally assumed. It was an intriguing enough place for us to pass its neighbor, Sherpa Kitchen (one of the best restaurants in town) to check it out.

If anything, it’s another solid stop that will hopefully be cherished by the surrounding suburban neighborhood.

See what Valley restaurants are offering takeout, delivery, and dine-in services. Find Kavala Restaurant & Café and many more Phoenix-area eateries in our Phoenix Restaurant Directory.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.