Location: 1011 Brookline Blvd., Brookline. 412-531-0400
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, salads and sides $3-10; entrees $8-18
Atmosphere: Pickles and plastic foliage
Live. Love. Eat.
It sounds like the motto of a romantic foodie, one we would happily place on our own family crest. By doing so, we would align ourselves with It's Greek to Me, a modest storefront restaurant which conjures the bright Mediterranean in Brookline.
Mottos aside, It's Greek to Me demonstrates that a labor of love need not cloak itself in superficial finery. The front door opens into the waiting area for the takeout counter, beyond which is the kitchen. The dining room, festooned with Christmas lights, plastic trees and displays of jarred homemade pickles, is through a doorway to the side. But the kitchen's openness and proximity meant that even while seated, we were privy to the banging and banter of behind-the-scenes. It all added up to a coziness that was neither precious nor premeditated, but which allowed us to feel that our own rambunctious entourage -- which included a preschooler and an infant -- were welcome.
After Greek iced teas to slake our thirsts, we took the edge off our collective hunger by ordering the mazza platter of appetizers. This featured all the eastern Mediterranean favorites, like hummus, tabouli and baba ganoush, plus the distinctively Greek skordalia, potatoes mashed with olive oil and lemon to create a dip. Thanks to an abundance of this last ingredient, the skordalia was tart -- nay, sour to the point of puckering -- while the rough-diced tabouli was overly oniony. But the hummus was superbly mellow, balanced among garlic's bite, lemon's tang and the earthy creaminess of the garbanzo base. Served with light, crisp-edged pita wedges that were as addictive as the proverbial potato chips, this was a good introduction to the menu.
Another starter, spanikopita, contained almost no spinach, oddly enough, but its cheesy filling had a fine lemony flavor and firm, meaty texture that we loved. Perhaps it's the name, not the recipe, of this dish that should be changed.
It's Greek to Me offers entrees as plates, including a small side salad and bed of rice pilaf, or as dinners, which come with a full Greek salad and choice of sides. Size-wise, we found the servings on the plates enough to satisfy without stuffing us, while we took home leftovers from our dinner picks. Neither the plates nor the dinners can be adequately enjoyed by those who require their foods not to touch. Like guests at a big fat Greek wedding, these flavors are meant to mingle.
The rice pilaf was almost risotto-like, with an unaccountably, but appealingly, creamy texture playing off occasional bites of still-crisp onion. The salad reminded us that while crispy iceberg lettuce may be passé in some quarters, in others there's nothing like it to complement juicy ripe tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, salty feta, kalamata olives and a light, lemony dressing seasoned with dried herbs. A side of slender fries looked hand-cut, but their pale golden color indicated too brief a fry, leaving them limp and soft.
As for our entrees, Angelique's falafel was well seasoned but dry despite its drizzle of yogurt dressing; it lacked the contrast between crunchy exterior and moist interior that mark the best chick-pea patties. Angelique rescued it by accompanying each bite with a forkful of salad. A chicken kebab was mildly seasoned with herbs, but the chunks of breast meat were, again, dry.
The real triumph of the meal was the souvlaki, Greece's signature grilled pork. The menu specifies that the cut of pork used is shoulder, that luscious blend of moist flesh and crisp char which is also the source of American barbecue pulled-pork. It's Greek to Me ups the ante with chunks of herb-coated meat that are nonetheless defined by their rich pork flavor.
At the end of our meal, our greatest quibble with It's Greek to Me was the prices, which we found a bit steep for such a modest neighborhood place. But if you live to eat, you'll at least like It's Greek to Me.