2.06.2013

Opa!

There’s a thin line to tread as a food blogger who chiefly reviews restaurants, and it’s one I probably haven’t laid down here before. On one side, you need to preserve your anonymity a bit, or else the restaurant is going to treat you differently and the service and food won’t be honest, therefore skewing your post. On the other, you want to spread the word about your blog, engage chefs and restaurateurs in social media, and support local business via online media. I ran into this dichotomy this week with a new restaurant in Endicott, NY called The Greek Key. The owners have made all the right moves for an eatery so recently opened, namely, establishing a website, Twitter handle, Facebook page and Urbanspoon entry right away. This online presence helped me research The Greek Key in advance, but I also fell into the trap of basically announcing myself to them and giving away my identity when I finally ate there. It’s my own fault; waiting in the parking lot for Melinda to arrive Monday evening, I checked myself in via Urbanspoon, and once I brandished a small notebook and a camera, the jig was up, and the waitress was on us like white on rice.


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.


Saganaki, post-flambé

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
 I considered choosing the Greek Key platter so I could evaluate the spanakopita (spinach pie), mousaka (eggplant casserole), and Pastitsio (Greek lasagna) for you, but it also featured dolamdes, or stuffed grape leaves, which I just plain don’t like, so I followed my stomach and ordered the Greek Key burger. I love a Greek burger, because feta and tzatziki are just as complimentary to beef as they are to fries. This one was topped with both griddled feta (a delectable touch) and kalamata tapenade. The unique tapenade surprise absolutely made the dish and anchored it in earthy, umami, funky flavors. The burger itself was clearly hand-formed and cooked perfectly to my designated “medium,” making it a juice factory. And it wasn’t too big, either - bigger than a fast-food disc ‘o beef, but thinner than a Fudrucker’s monster, and juicier than either. The thick slice of raw, white onion on top added a punch of heat to balance out all that richness. I would have liked a slice of tomato as well, to add some freshness, and will request this in the future. In any event, it was divine.

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!

PS: Hey, did you know you can share this post with your friends on Le Book de Face, Twitter, and other social media platforms? That’s right, just below this text, there’s a little row of app logos that will allow you to share my content with your social network. Pick one click it, and let all your friends know just how delicious Big Hungries can be. Something yummy this way comes.

Greek Key Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

10 comments:

  1. Mmmm, flaming cheese... The burger looks yummy, and I can never resist baklava!

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  2. I've been dying for Greek food, and this post only made it worse. I might have to seek out some lunch.

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    1. Sorry to contribute to gluttony. Actually, I take that back. You GET your Greek food, and you eat the hell out of it! Enjoy! Opa!

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  3. Had a chance to try out the Greek Key for dinner, I tried the Mousaka and loved it! Have been craving it since!! Also had the Saganaki for an appetizer, it was delicious and loved the presentation!

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    1. Glad to hear the moussaka is a winner! I'll try that next time I go, and post about it either on Facebook or Twiiter.

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  4. As a fellow food blogger who most definitely finds herself in the former camp, I know how tricky it can be to keep anonymity. I use my cell to take pictures (shutter sound and flash off) and notes--people generally think you're just texting or noodling around on your phone. It also helps that I'm camera shy normally, so I don't really have any of my photos online, and no one can identify me by my picture.

    But yes. Love, love, LOVE Greek food. Pastitsio is my new obsession. :d

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  5. Shelby, nice long blog post, but to me you copped out. You de-selected the Greek platter (with 4 classic Greek dishes) and instead went with the Greek burger and Greek fries? Really? That's very disappointing for a review for a blog that reviews eateries. I would NEVER eat an Italian burger and Italian fries at an Italian place if my intent was a published review and I doubt you would too. Go back and get the platter, or something REALLY Greek, not an American item Greekified. To me that's ordering from a kiddie menu. When at a Greek restaurant eat GREEK! :-)

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    1. Hi Duck, thanks for your comment. Please not that Big Hungry Shelby is not monetized, and I receive no revenue from what I publish - its a hobby for me. For that reason, I am not always able to visit a restaurant many times like a restaurant reviewer employed by a newspaper or magazine. I'm publishing my opinions about an establishment only as my own thoughts, and always with the acknowledgement that I am a food fan, not a critic. I recommend restaurants to my readers with the caveat and the full disclosure of why I ordered a particular item or only sampled so much, as I did in this piece. I'm a human who craves certain foods on certain nights, and I make no excuses for that. In this instance, I've been back to Greek Key since, and eaten more authentic menu items, and been very pleased!

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  7. Tom & I had dinner there last night and we weren't that impressed. There were many reasons we will probably go to a local diner the next time we are craving greek food.
    We ordered the Tzatziki appetizer that our waitress forgot about, and had to reminder her after our entrees came out. Considering we were the only table, I was disappointed she forgot about it and then surprised that she still had it on our bill.
    I ordered the Spanakopita and Tom ordered the Greek Key Platter. Neither dish was something we would shout from the rooftops. The sizes were generous but the quality was weak. Both dishes were lukewarm. I would rather have something delicious and small than average and large.
    The only great thing of the evening, we both agreed on was the Tzatziki despite the fact it came as a side dish than as an appetizer.

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