1.03.2012

All Hail Flaming Cheese!

I have a reader, Mike, who lives in Chaumont and loves to talk about food. He knows I’m an Ithaca lover, but told me I was missing out on the best food in town: Souvlaki House, over in Collegetown. Mike, this one’s for you!

Mike’s daughter just happens to be Miss Thousand Islands 2011, and she just happens to be graduating from Ithaca College this weekend. Ever since Morgan was crowned last August, I promised I would come to Ithaca and take her to lunch one day, and then I woke up a couple weeks ago and realized that she’s taking her finals and it’s time to stop procrastinating. And that’s how we ended up here:


Saganaki!

That, up there, is kasseri cheese, doused in ouzo and flambéed, with a little lemon juice spritzer. Come to think of it, this is how I’d like to die. Basically, if I’m doling out advice, that advice is to go to Souvlaki House and order this. Post Haste. The cheese is like saltier, denser, fresh mozzarella, and once the flames die down, you smear this on pita or The House’s funky little hot dog buns-turned garlic bread. You get the ouzo-licorice flavor, the fresh lemon and the salty cheese all at once, and the result is divine.

The inside of this joint looks like it was decorated with care in 1972 and never touched again. The poetry of that is, if you’re in a college town, and those damn kids are always coming in drunk and messing up your place, why pour money into it? I’m thinking the Papachryssanthou (you heard me) family concentrates on the food, and leaves the rest to the fates. And I say, go with it, because the result is great food for tiny prices.


Pow!

The greek salad and hummus were literally the best I have ever had. That hummus was salty, earthy and addictive. It tasted remarkably fresh, more, I don’t know, hummus-ier than even homemade stuff I’ve had in the past. This was technically Morgan’s appetizer, but I couldn’t keep my hands out of it. The greek salad was very simple, and very, very good. Pit-in kalamata olives, salty feta cheese running all throughout (not just one little chunk resting on top), and a potent, acidic greek dressing that packed a wicked pissah of a punch – this salad was for the gods.


Best. Hummus. Ever.

Morgan ordered the Greek souvlaki, sandwich-style in a pita, for her entrée, while I went with the gyros plate. The souvlaki looked delicious: tender chunks of marinated lamb hugged by the soft, warm pita bread.



Always wise to choose the dish the restaurant is named after

My gyros platter was only OK for me. I appreciated the fresh flavor of the tatziki/tzatsiki sauce, in which the cucumbers were chunkier than other versions I’ve had and there was less emphasis on garlic. The beef in this dish was sort of a meat-loaf texture, and for me, there wasn’t a ton of flavor. I like this dish, but I didn’t love it.


Can you see the cucumber chunks in there?

I really, really want to make a return trip to try the spanakopita, which is the spinach and feta pie with filo pastry, and also some of the Italian specialties. When I was in school in North Carolina, we used to frequent a place called Greek Village, which had the best baked spaghetti I have had, ever. Their red sauce was on the spicy/sweet side, and it was terrific. I’m hoping Souvlaki House can rival those offerings, since it’s much more convenient to pop up to Ithaca than it is to trek down to Laurinburg, NC.

In the end, Morgan and I gave Souvlaki House a 7 on the BHS scale. It was a satisfying, huge, yummy meal in a no-frills joint, and I was happy with that. Give this place a try if you’re in Ithaca and don’t want to get fancied up, but you do want to be rolled out the door, groaning with pleasure.

So here passes another recommendation for Ithaca. North Country Big Hungries: have you ventured down to this little utopia yet to sample the wares? Summer is coming, and I really must insist that you do. The bumper stickers insisting “Ithaca is gorges” aren’t kidding. There are more good restaurants, scenic byways, picturesque wineries, breathtaking hiking and fabulous spas here than the Ithacans know what to do with. Make Ithaca a priority this summer. Then you can write me fan mail letting me know how brilliant I am and how you never knew a place like this could exist in Upstate NY;) My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Souvlaki House on Urbanspoon

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