Greek Key is occupying the space most recently inhabited by Hurricane Rylies, but has brightened up the interior quite a bit, giving the timbered décor a Greek taverna feel, with cobalt blue accents and whitewashed walls. It’s been frigid lately in Upstate NY, and we were feeling a bit drafty and chilly when we first entered, but someone cranked up the heat and it was toasty and hospitable as the meal progressed. The décor still feels a bit sparse, which may be owing to the recent renovation. I think it needs to be lived in and roughed up a bit before it feels comfortable here. Most of the usual suspects in Greek cuisine are present on GK’s lunch and dinner menu, with the exception of a lamb dish. Lamb is such an important protein to the Greek diet that I was surprised not to see it featured here. I know lamb is not nearly as popular in the US as it is overseas, but it’s so delicious, a braised lamb shank or even a really tasty lamb burger would undoubtedly sell here.
|You only get one shot at this photo. Opa!|
We started with the saganaki, which I was thrilled to see on the menu. Flaming cheese is entertainment and deliciousness rolled into one sizzle platter. Melinda had never had this delicacy before, and in case you haven’t either, it’s made with Kasseri, which is kind of a salty, dense mozzarella-flavored sheep’s milk cheese. It can also be made with haloumi cheese, another dense, stringy, sheep’s milk variety. The theater of this dish comes when the waitress brings the square of cheese tableside, nestled in its double-handled platter, douses it with a shot of Ouzo which she then lights on fire and puts out with a squeeze of lemon. The resulting cheese is melty, gooey, salty, citrusy, and boozy. Those are all very good words. You scoop up a bit of the cheese and mash it on a piece of bread, and you have a fine appetizer, indeed. Saganaki may sound Japanese, but the shout of “Opa!” when the Ouzo is lit reads Greek in every way.
Melinda announced right away that she intended to order the chicken souvlaki, my usual Greek go-to, which was cool, because it freed me up to choose something else. The thing I love about a chicken souvlaki platter in Greek diners is that you hit all the great things about Greek food: pita, grilled meat marinated in citrusy, oregano-laced vinaigrette, Greek salad with feta, and fries with tzatziki. The tzatziki is key, and ties it all together. The yogurt-based sauce incorporates cucumber, garlic, and either mint or dill, providing a cooling, creamy compliment to the feta and all the other ingredients. So Greek Key’s version of souvlaki had one flaw for me: it forced Melinda to choose between fries and salad. Granted, for the $9 price tag, I’m not saying she didn’t get enough food. But for me, souvlaki needs to have both the salad component and the fries with the tzatziki, or it’s just not living up to its own potential. This version had no tomato, kalamata black olives, or even feta to go with the chicken and pita, so while Melinda said the chicken was juicy and flavorful, I was disappointed.
|This plate needs some color|
|The pita was ready for its close-up|
|See the browned feta? Genius.|
We both chose the so-called Greek fries to go with our sandwiches. They were really good, hand-cut, and twice-fried. I have some notes, though. While the salt, pepper and oregano topping was nice, it needed a little more salt, for my taste (surprise, surprise), and you know it’s nearly impossible to properly salt fries once they’ve hit the table – that needs to happen seconds after they leave the fryer. Also, if I were calling something “Greek fries,” I would just envision some feta sprinkled over the top, and maybe even some diced tomato. As they were, the only thing differentiating these from regular, homemade fries was the oregano, which I don’t think is enough to make them “Greek.” They were good, but not particularly special.
From both plates, I was really missing the freshness aspect inherent in most Greek dishes by virtue of the presence of Greek salad. Again, probably because I mostly eat Greek food in diners, the salad is ubiquitous, and now, like Pavlov’s dog, I need it. I need lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olives, and feta in a vinaigrette on my plate, or I’m just not 100% satisfied. Next time, for $2.50, I’ll order a side salad and shut up about it, I promise.
For dessert, we had to go for the baklava. You’ve had this, right? Layers of phyllo dough and walnuts, soaked in honey? So often, the honey and nuts create an almost unbearable richness such that this delicacy must be served up in tiny portions to be edible. However, Greek Key is serving up one of the best versions I’ve ever tasted: the top layer of phyllo is actually crispy, there’s a hint of spice in the nut mixture you don’t usually get, possibly a wee bit of cinnamon or maybe clove, and the honey is actually watered down, which sounds gross, but is actually brilliant. It allows you to take more than one bite without grunting, “Ugh, I’m SO FULL!”
Overall, we left the Greek Key fat and happy, which is all anyone can really ask for from dinner, correct? As stated, I would have liked to see more vegetables included on the plate without having to choose between that or fries. I need both fried things and green things to be truly happy in this life. And our waitress and the owner/chef were a tad too attentive to our table, but I’m sure this is because I had been pinned as a blogger from the outset – you shouldn’t have any such issue. But overall, The Greek Key is delivering high quality, low fuss food at rock-bottom prices in a part of the Southern Tier where there just aren’t enough places to eat. I mean, I’m counting this location as West Corners, since it’s west of Main St., and I consider this my ‘hood. We gave Greek Key a seven on the BHS scale – above average, but with room to grow. When you check it out, try one of the casserole classics, cover them in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to update you when I go back! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!
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