Monday, March 10, 2008

Greek Islands

Restaurant: Greek Islands
Address: 3821 Center Street
Genres: Greek
Check Constraints: Automatic gratuity of 10-15% for parties of 20+. Checks can be split, and appetizer costs can also be split among the split checks.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Greek Island Burger (6.99)
    • Steak Fries
  • Iced Tea (1.75)
  • Saganaki (feta cheese flambe) (1.74 after split)
  • Appetizer Combo Platter for Four (2.65 after split)
  • Greek Potatoes (2.99)
Greek Islands is a cozy little restaurant nestled in between the two main business districts of Omaha. I'm pretty sure that the building itself was converted from something else, but damned if I can tell what. That's irrelevant, though, because what it is is quality. This is the second time we've been there, the first being before we started blagging, so we went back just for y'all. Actually, that's a lie. We went back for the food.

The appetizer combo platter consists of four hot appetizers arranged around a small container of satziki sauce and a fairly large slab of feta cheese. Turns out that slab of feta is used a LOT at this place, you'll see it turn up later in the review. The stuff arranged around it is the really important part, though. A quarter of the platter is a big pile of gyro meat. Since you also get a refillable basket of bread and butter, I'd use that for this stuff. Gyro as appetizer, gyro as meal. Opposite that is a big pile of meatballs, which are good on their own and amazing when dipped in the satziki. Another quarter of the space is basically filo dough wrapped around feta cheese and baked, and opposite THAT is the same thing, only with spinach. All of them are worth trying, but be warned, the pastries are really, REALLY hot when they come out. I warned Cham and he still burned his damn fool mouth.

The greek potatoes are roast potatoes like mom used to make. Literally, in my case. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they roast the things with the chiken they make here (which is, by the way, delicious). Potatoes, quartered lengthwise, herbed liberally and roasted. If you get them, eat them first, because they come out steaming and they'll dry out quickly, and there's no gravy to keep them moist.

When I was a young'n, one of my uncles got some feta cheese and offered me a couple bites. I tried it, and man, it was awful, or so I thought. I went for quite some time thinking that I didn't like feta. Turns out I just wasn't eating it right. Saganaki, that's a good way to eat feta. Take a centimeter thick slab of feta cheese, put it on a metal plate, douse it with brandy, and light it up. Let it caramelize a bit, cut off a chunk, and spread it on some bread. It's one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, and I have tasted a number of very delicious things.

Another excellent way to eat feta is with that burger. I want to be absolutely clear on this point, the greek islands burger is equal parts bun, ground beef, gyro meat, and feta cheese. That same immense slab of feta that they use for the appetizers is also used for this burger, and the result is a burger that stands proud on its own, accepting no sauce of any sort. The steak fries that come with the burger are just your standard prefab steak fries, so use the catsup they'll bring out. Just keep the stuff WELL away from the burger.

We've been to this place twice, and both times were worth every last penny. Go there, but you might want to consider making it a late lunch, because it's got a great location, and since most people tend to try for an early lunch, it fills up fast and thins out a lot around 12:30 or so.

  • Greek Island Burger (6.99)
    • Steak Fries
  • Appetizers (Split four ways. See above.)
It seems like I won't have much to add to ND's comments since we ate nearly the same thing, but I'll add my take on it. The saganaki is always impressive. I mean, they set it on fire at your table! They also squeeze a bit of lemon on it when the flames are done. The edges harden up and get a crunchy, tangy flavor to them. The combo platter was a good mix of tasty treats. I love their gyro meat, so that was a good start. The meatballs were also really good. The spinach pastry was strong, but not bad. I prefer the other one though. It was simply cheese in pastry bread and really good.

The burger was amazing. I topped my burger with all the things they give you on the side--pickles, a little onion, and lettuce. I considered trying to get some of that satziki from the appetizer tray, but it really doesn't need anything. The fries were fairly ordinary. There was a little bit of seasoning, but you can't taste it. ND couldn't finish his last potato, so I gladly gave up half my fries for it. It does get a bit dry, but it's still just as tasty. My mom makes a pot roast with beef, carrots and potatoes, and these potatoes remind me so much of those (a good thing), but with a bit of seasoning. I had considered trying to swap the fries for potatoes, but decided to try the fries first. I don't know if you even can swap, but I'd recommend trying. I know I will.

Last time around, I had a gyro with the potatoes. The gyro itself was piled so extremely high, it was overflowing. You couldn't even try to fold the pita! You get the amazing gyro meat, satziki, feta, onions, and I swear there was something else (maybe something red?) in there. I don't remember the price, but it was really good for the amount of food.


  • Lamb Stew ($8.50)
  • Appetizers (see above)
A week late and a dollar short, but at least I'm getting to the review before the next lunch out today. I blame work, mostly.

As ND mentions, we've been to Greek Islands before. He's correct in that it feels like the building was converted from something prior, as the outside looks like nothing so much as a metal-walled pole-barn (if you don't know what that is, be glad you grew up outside the farm belt). Which really doesn't matter, because the inside has many loving touches which make it a good place to be. Sitting inside it is a far cry from being on the seashore eating delicious Mediterranean food, but the frescoes on the walls are very pretty, and they use mirrors judiciously enough to make the restaurant seem twice as big. Of course, since the place was packed the mirrors also made it look twice as full, but that's forgivable.

The two pastries on the appetizer dish ND mentioned were spanakopita (the spinach one) and tyropita (the non-spinach one). The phyllo dough is delightfully crisp, the insides were delicious and warm, and dipping them in tzatziki ratchets up the flavor to eleven.

I saw the sign for lamb stew on the way in the door and decided I wanted to try it before I even saw the menu. It's apparently a regular Thursday special for them, and I really recommend giving it a try. I was a little taken aback when the server mentioned that it had no vegetables in it, but let me digress a moment on stew styles. The first of two ways you can take a stew is towards the style I call "English", which is "let's throw whatever we've got lying around into this pot"; that nets you delicious food like your stereotypical beef stew, and on into your thicker soups. The other way is "let's overwhelm this meat with spices so we can't tell it's going bad" (it sounds nasty but you could make a good argument that the whole "cooking with spices" thing started to disguise bad ingredients). That was the way this lamb stew went; it was a lot like a curry, very heavy on coriander, with nothing in it but lamb, spices, and possibly what was once a tomato base. I have absolutely zero complaints; the stew was delicious, and even the heavy spicing let the meat's taste shine through. It was a very middle-eastern/Mediterranean treatment of a stew, and I'm actually pleased they chose to go the dangerous route instead of sticking with something they were sure everyone would be comfortable with.

It's served on rice, and with nothing else, so if you're not one for strong flavors go ahead and save the side salad it comes with to eat alongside, instead of beforehand. Adding a side of vegetables probably wouldn't go amiss, either.

The place is nice, the food is excellent, and the servers are capable and friendly. Three thumbs up.

  • Chicken Santorini (Chicken breast stuffed with Feta and Spinach) ($8.49)
    • Steak Fries
    • House Salad
  • Souvlaki ($5.59 for a stick, a-la carte)
  • Saganaki (cheese flambe) (Split four ways, $1.75)
  • Appetizer Platter (Split four ways, $2.65)
    • Tyropitakia (Three-cheese pie in fila)
    • Spanikopita (Spinach and feta pie in fila)
    • Keftedes (Greek Meatballs)
    • Gyro Meat
    • A block of feta cheese
    • Tzatziki sauce
Okay, okay, I'll note exactly what's in the appetizer sampler for posterity. The place was pretty busy at the just before 12ish time we arrived at, but by 12:40 the crowd had lightened significantly. The place also has a bar, but nobody in the group has sampled its wares yet.

The three-cheese pie and spinach and feta pies were both okay, although the spinach and feta pie was too much spinach for my tastes. The meat options were just delicious, as expected, and the feta cheese and tzatziki sauce supported pretty much everything on the platter fantastically. The gyro meat was good even without the tomato and onion that I tend to eat on my gyros, and the meatballs were good, if not seeming too different from normal meatballs to me. The Saganaki is a fairly signature thing, and for good reason. It's a really an interesting and somewhat acquired taste of lemon and cooked/caramelized/burned cheese served in a hot pan a-la a fajita or some other 'serve it sizzling' dish, it's but it's a good acquired taste. The guy was even nice enough not to light my hair on fire. I'm not sure that it's feta, though, or at least the normal feta, as the menu just says 'greek cheese' there, and uses feta for feta everywhere else. But no matter what cheese it is, it works.

For the main dish, I chose to stick with something old (a Souvlaki skewer) and something new (the chicken, nach.) Now, considering how I said that the spanikoptia was too much spinach for me, you'd think I might have the same trouble with the chicken, but you'd be wrong. The chicken had the perfect amount of spinach taste, cheese taste, and chicken taste, and held together pretty well for a stuffed chicken breast from a 'falling all over your plate PoV'. I got steak fries which were nothing amazing, but just fine. Then again, I eat them without ketchup, which is apparently impossible for anyone else.

The souvlaki skewer is a skewer of big hunks of pork (IIRC) that are browned and absolutely delicious. They'll typically offer them in pitas with other things for real eating, but I just got some on my own, and it was good, although 5.60 for just the meat feels a little expensive. I was hoping it'd come with pita/etc.

Ultimately the amount was all too much food for me. I ended up boxing all of my stuff up, along with the feta and the tzatziki sauce, and they all kept pretty well a day later, which was a little surprising, but very pleasing. Always good to know.

It's great filling food, the price is still good on the overall, and the service was friendly and pretty good for the place being so busy. It's just a shame it's too far away to go too regularly.

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