Sacramento, CA 95814
Petra is a valley of ruins in Jordan which draws visitors from around the world. Petra is also a Greek restaurant wedged between California Pizza Kitchen and Sapporo Grill Japanese Steakhouse on 16th near L Street. While a Greek place named after a Jordanian destination seems, at first blush, a little like Don Quixote’s Mexican Grill, the riddle is solved when it is discovered petra is “rock” in Greek and, Petra, the Greek restaurant, is located in the Firestone building. An inside rock joke, lost in translation.
The three hunks of pork, chicken and lemon beef gyros slowly rotating on Petra’s vertical Autodoner skewers inside the front doors of the narrow eatery recall countless open-air eateries throughout Greece and the Middle East, where gyros share menus with shawarma and the Turkish doner kebab.
Shawarma and doner kebab are not present at Petra. This is traditional Greek food prepared traditionally.
There’s a few french fries freeloading in the gyros sandwich with the tomatoes, red onion and tzatziki—just as there would be in Athens and most of the rest of the country. Even the $8 St. Patrick’s Day special stays safely on the Peloponnesus: lamb gyro and Olympus beer. Adding a large feta-dusted Greek salad of tomato chunks, cucumber, red onion, Kalamata and pepperoncini is more than lunch for one.
Also in the Titans-size portion club is the Athenian Pikilia Plate. At $16.99, it’s the priciest item on Petra’s menu. To accurately gauge Petra’s pluck requires an expert, and so Terrence Clifford Brennand, powerful labor union leader, is enlisted. Terry worked for a number of years at Symposium, Davis’ venerable Greek restaurant, and continues to craft an avgolemono emboldened by oregano with a far more lemony bite than Petra’s version.
He picks pikilia. If the perception of Petra’s pikilia is that it’s some mega-meze sampler plate, get disabused. A kraken would be hard-pressed to clear this plate piled with two biftekia patties, one loukaniko, skewers of pork and chicken souvlaki, individual slices of all three gyros and a small pile of Greek salad bordered by a pond of tzatziki and several slices of pita. The sight of the piled-high plate makes my pork souvlaki pita seem pitifully paltry.
Of Terry’s massive feast, the souvlaki and gyros, both pork and chicken, are tastier than the biftekia and the loukaniko, which linger a little longish on the grill. Partly, they languish because the Petra team is slammed. It’s 12:30 p.m. and all 31 seats are filled. Additionally, a healthy smattering of to-go customers congregates by the counter.
While much of it ends up in one of Terry’s to-go boxes, the grandiose slice of spanakopita—a measly $4—is neither overly salty nor feta frenetic, both of which can easily occur through artless creation of this jewel of vegetarian dishes. Nor, as has occurred more than once in the Lucas Test Kitchen, is the phyllo honked up by not slathering enough butter between layers.
A question addressed both to Terry and, on other visits, to Petra’s management is the absence of a Greek hot sauce. Mixing cultures, there is a delectable yin-yang in a gyros sandwich bathed in tzatziki with a kicker of cayenne or chili flake. There are a few lonely bottles of Tabasco near the napkins, but given the apparent dearth of Greek hot sauce, how about harissa? At least North Africa is closer to Mother Greece. We’re not talking ghost pepper, just a sprinkling of forehead sweat, which one of the apparent owners says he also relishes as he witnesses a rain of Tabasco fall on a bifteki and pork gyro. Absent an abundance of harissa, no harm would come from a pepperoncini or three on each plate.
On every visit, the staff is remarkably solicitous—not always common at restaurants with ordering at the cash register. Terry and I are asked multiple times by cashier-waitresses—and management—of the meal caliber and our contentment. Everyone seems eager for input and eager to please. Multiple return visits planned. Efharisto poli.