Greece is the word

Photo By David Robert

Greko’s is an unusual little place, a quirky bead hanging from the dull necklace of strip malls strung along McCarran Boulevard in Sparks. From the decor to the food quality, it’s clear that owner Nikos Theologitis doesn’t want Greko’s to be yet another of the many take-out pizza joints run by Greeks.

In the small dining area, gumball machines dispensing Pokémon tattoos and plastic, pop-eyed aliens share space with metal patio furniture. Rabbit ears squat atop a working 1960s television pushed into a corner. A souvenir plate hanging just above the TV depicts spear-carrying warriors from ancient Greece. Perhaps they’re fighting over who gets the Pikachu tattoo.

The lighting in Greko’s is surgically bright, like the sunlight of Greece. I closed one eye and looked at a Greek travel poster across from me. I imagined myself on a terrace overlooking the Aegean, sipping retsina, getting bronzed.

I kept that vision in mind as I savored the tiropita, or cheese pie ($2.50 a slice). Feta cheese added zest and brawn to an otherwise mellow filling enfolded by phyllo sheets brushed with butter. Although it would be easier to use frozen dough, Greko’s makes its phyllo fresh each day. It’s a welcome step that increases the appeal of the dish.

Freshness also characterized the gyro ($4.20), the familiar Greek specialty of roasted lamb and grilled vegetables wrapped in a pita and topped with a cucumber-yogurt sauce.

Theologitis roasted the lamb on a vertical spit in the usual manner. But instead of slicing the meat, as is typical, he served it in chunks, a surprising but delightful break with tradition. The lamb had a softly earthy flavor, and unlike so many gyros I’ve eaten, the sauce didn’t drown the other ingredients.

The antipasto salad ($3.99, $6.99) showed some flair, too. Theologitis layered salami, black olives, whole-milk mozzarella cheese and diced tomatoes on a bed of greens. A green chili pepper stood sentry at each corner of the dish. The result resembled a twist on the classic Cobb salad.

Truman Capote said that the rich have tinier vegetables than the rest of us. I think the same can often be said of careful cooks. These tomatoes were so red—and so evenly diced—that they took on an almost aesthetic dimension, like miniature, edible art.

And what of the pizza, you’re probably wondering? Well, the extra-large pizza ($11) was the only disappointing moment of the night.

Like the tomatoes, the feta cheese and chicken toppings showed the influence of a skillfully wielded knife. The sauce wasn’t poured too heavily; the crust wasn’t too thick. But the finished pizza was oddly bland, crying out for seasoning and spicing.

Perhaps this was just an anomaly. And perhaps it’s a sign that Greko’s is in transition. The place does a brisk take-out business, Theologitis said. But he wishes he could offer amenities, such as more service and seating, so diners could enjoy a real restaurant meal.

To that end, Theologitis wants to take over the space next door, obtain a liquor license and expand Greko’s menu beyond pizzas, a few Greek courses, hot sandwiches ($4.95) and chicken wings ($4.95-$16.95).

But whatever form Greko’s takes, I hope its offbeat spirit remains intact. Keep the gumball machines, please.