Greek Love

Did you know that the German fashion house Hugo Boss outfitted the Nazi SS during WWII? That many of the clocks in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20, a.k.a. international tokers' time? Or that actor Kevin Spacey's dad was supposedly such an impassioned admirer of Adolf Hitler that Spacey père trimmed his facial hair to resemble the Führer's?

I only just learned all of the above, though I'm a little ashamed of not noticing the 4:20 reference back when I first saw Pulp Fiction. My point is that I'm hardly omniscient, people, and who wants to be, anyway? It would ruin the thrill of discovery, and then, sometimes it pays not to be aware of certain things. I have a bad habit of staying up late and watching whatever weird documentaries happen to be on cable. Inevitably, I end up sitting through some truly frightening stuff -- usually regarding the likelihood of some humongo meteor crashing into the Earth and wiping out the human race, or how various unseen, odorless particulates can cut short our lives. Such knowledge induces far more terror in me than, say, a screening of Saw II or Hostel, or even the latest murder report on the local TV news.

Running across a great neighborhood restaurant, however, especially one that's been around for a few years, is one of the cooler revelations I experience these days, although it can be a little galling. That was my reaction when my pal Mikey and I stopped at Greek Patio, a cozy, family-run Mediterranean eatery in the Bell Towne Centre at Seventh Street and Greenway Parkway. We'd been at a nearby exotic bird store on the hunt for a pet toucan for this arbiter of all things edible, when we suddenly felt immensely peckish. Spotting Greek Patio there, just behind a Wendy's and between a Streets of New York and a Kinko's, we figured a little kabob-hummus-pita action would be just the thing to aid our grumbling innards.


Greek Patio

402 East Greenway Parkway (Bell Towne Centre, Seventh Street and Greenway Parkway)

Spanakopita: $7.95

Cornish chicken: $12.95

Catfish: $11.95

Moussaka: $12.95

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

I hadn't heard of Greek Patio before, and it wouldn't be hard to miss, hidden away as it is in Bell Towne's shopping sprawl. I soon learned that GP had been doling out Greek grub for five years, but somehow escaped the notice of my predecessors at this paper. This seems almost a crime considering the meals I've since had there: all straightforward, well-prepared dishes, and better than most in this same category.

For instance, there are a gazillion places in town that do clucker kabob, but usually it's entirely forgettable. GP's golden hunks of grilled poultry, sprinkled with sumac, and served, as are most of the entrees, with buttery, yellowed basmati rice, may not have been the best chicken kabob I've ever consumed; but being that these morsels of hen flesh were juicy, sapid and satisfying, they're the best I've had of late.

On that first excursion, Mikey had the kabob, and I had the Cornish chicken, mainly because I was so tickled by seeing this non-trad item on the menu that I had to order it. Actually, I initially wanted the catfish -- I mean, how often do you see catfish on a Greek menu? Yet they were out of catfish that day, so I went with the Cornish fowl. Brought to me quartered, with the aforementioned basmati, it had been baked in a mixture of, among other things, olive oil, garlic, black pepper, lemon and a touch of curry. Fragrant and far from dry, it tingled my mouth, reminding me a little of tandoori chicken, except that the flavor was far more subtle and mild. I can only guess it was the spices or the fact that I had recently reviewed Tandoori Times, which jogged my synapses with the thought of TT's bird.

On subsequent visits, I went sans Mikey, and tried a number of items that I gobbled with gusto. Oh, that catfish! Its coating crispy from having been fried, drowned in a puddle of stewed tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers, it resembled in presentation the Veracruz-style tilapia you can enjoy at so many mariscos joints. And the Patio's combo, featuring one skewer of kifta kabob, made with ground, seasoned lamb and beef, and one kabob of your choice, was another of my preferred platters. That kifta kabob was so savory, it makes you wonder why more hamburgers can't taste like this, or at least be as appealing.

The hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and dolmades were all pretty standard, though yummy nonetheless. The pita, however, did seem a bit drier than usual at times, and the calamari seemed the weakest link of all, in that it was unusually unexceptional. But these are paltry quibbles, cavils that GP's delectable spanakopita and saganaki easily overwhelm. The spanakopita look more like those apple pies from Mickey D's than the baked phyllo pastry I'm used to associating with the name. Still, stuffed with a moist combo of spinach, feta, onions and ricotta, and fried to a crisp, this is hands-down the best spanakopita I've had in Phoenix. The saganaki is an experience all in itself, a flat rectangle of sheep's-milk cheese set aflame tableside with brandy, then extinguished with a squeeze of lemon -- a tangy-sweet, alkie-laced treat. Try this at your Super Bowl halftime party instead of fried mozzarella sticks, and you'll be the talk of your 'hood, for sure, as long as you don't set your house aflame.

GP apparently does not offer avgolemono, that lemony, egg-yolky chicken broth that's as important to me when eating Greek as a shot or two of ouzo before the meal. In its stead, there was a hearty lentil soup, for which a squeeze of lemon does wonders. Nevertheless, I found avgolemono's absence here puzzling. As for the lamb shank, it didn't exactly fall off the bone, but they give you a big enough portion, and the potato-onion-tomato stew that accompanies it is true comfort fare.

Order baklava, and you receive a generous, slightly doughy square of honey-bathed goodness that'll have you dancing a Zorba-like jig. Small but pleasant, with the usual blue and white interior, and a patio strung with Xmas lights of the same colors, GP seems happy enough to remain a friendly little Greek bistro. Wish I'd known about it sooner, but the thrill of discovery was worth the wait.

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