Greek expectations

Little Greek Deli owner and chef Rene Ferguson with spanakopita and a Greek side salad.

Little Greek Deli owner and chef Rene Ferguson with spanakopita and a Greek side salad.

Photo/Allison Young

The Little Greek Deli is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There was once a little house that became a little office, then a little retail space, and most recently a little restaurant. All decked out in traditional blue and white, Mediterranean-themed decorations, and featuring a hostess/chef/server/personality with charm to spare, the Little Greek Deli deserves all the buzz generated since it opened just a few weeks ago.

As any decent home cook will tell you, the most important kitchen lessons are learned from family. We all have our family recipes, perhaps even a few secret ingredients that make a particular dish stand out. For instance, every poultry-consuming culture has its own take on chicken soup, and most families have their favorite version. My order of kotósoupa—Greek for “chicken soup”—was served piping hot, aromatic, and loaded with flavors of carrot, celery, scallion, cilantro, garlic, bay leaf and those “secret ingredients” in a preparation learned from our host’s Greek grandmother ($4). This is a level of soup-making that’s less about recipe and more about understanding how flavors combine with patience and time. I hadn’t even planned on soup, but the “good chicken soup” sign at the door lured me in. It really ought to read “best chicken soup.” Grandma knew her stuff.

In a small space, a short and sweet menu is the smartest move, allowing the chef to really shine on a few items. My wife and I both ordered the Athena plate ($12), which says “everything and more” on the menu. What we received was a healthy serving of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, kalamata olives, golden Greek pepper and Greek vinaigrette dressing), points of toasted pita, tender and perfectly spiced slices of gyro (spit-roasted, thin-shaved lamb), a square of spanakópita, a couple dolmas, and plenty of tzatziki sauce.

The toughest thing for me when preparing to write a new food review is encountering a meal with zero missteps. After a meal this good with service this friendly, I just feel like writing the name of the place followed with, “Absolutely, completely wonderful,” a couple of hundred times in order to fill this space. Lots of little, positive touches stand out in this case. For instance, the olives were pitted, which is not always the case with traditional kalamata. My teeth and I appreciate the effort. The feta cheese—available for sale by the pound from this deli—is well above supermarket grade, which my cheese-loving self noticed right away. The tzatziki was clearly housemade, very fresh-tasting with just the right consistency.

Despite my love of spinach, spanakópita is usually not one of my favorite Greek dishes. Apparently, I just hadn’t met the right pie until now. This layered mix of greens and filo dough has me convinced I’ve been missing out, especially when a little tzatziki is added to each bite. Last surprise: the dolma (grape leaf stuffed with rice, herb, spice and veg). My wife is usually not a fan, and I admit I’ve been served plenty of sub-par examples from various Mediterranean cultures. With this meal, my wife has finally found dolmades she can love. The grape leaves weren’t mushy and the rice was firmly molded, with a spearmint kick providing subtle balance to the other flavors.

We completed our meal with two rectangles of walnut baklava ($2.25 each), which was far less sticky sweet than the Levantine pistachio sort. It reminded me of the very first Greek pastry I was given as a child, which seemed so remarkably exotic at the time. Far from exotic, the hospitality and cuisine of the Little Greek Deli will make you feel right at home.