"The Greek" Hits West 7th
In London, it's common to find quaint family-operated ethnic restaurants, like The Vine Greek Taverna, dotted along just about any street you stroll down. Each one pays homage to a different element of the diverse population in that age-old city.
The Vine opened its doors nearly a year ago. It celebrates the Greek heritage of owner John Ieronymides, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Julie, and their daughter Sammy Hatley, who will be responsible for more of the daily operations as the Ieronymides’ ease into retirement.
John, whose nickname is “The Greek,” was born in Cyprus, where he lived as a boy. His accent is still firmly planted in London, where his family relocated and subsequently spent 34 years. The Ieronymides family had been in Texas for 13 years before their dream of opening an authentic Greek restaurant was realized.
Although small, The Vine is comfortable. Whitewashed walls decorated with iron gates intertwined with grapevines add to the decidedly European sense of the place. Subtle Greek music can be heard just above the din of the restaurant.
The Tria ($15) offers a choice of three appetizers from a selection of tzatziki, hummus, dolmades, spanakopita, grilled haloumi cheese or Keftedes. Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of spanakopita on the night we dined. I was craving the crispy phyllo dough delicacy filled traditionally with fresh spinach and feta, since it is labor intensive and not available on many menus. But we happily settled for the Keftedes, which one of my friends jokingly described as Greek hushpuppies. They are deep-fried balls of ground turkey, onion, potato and herbs. A serving of five was presented on a bed of chopped romaine and laced with crumbled feta. Though somewhat bland in flavor, the Keftedes came with a lovely Tzatziki sauce (featuring yogurt, dill and cucumber) for dipping.
The Hummus was fresh and garlic forward. A unique offering of grilled Haloumi cheese was delicious. The salty Cypriot cheese was grilled in browned butter and includes four pieces with each order. It would only be a small taste for two, but well worth it.
Our table sampled Kebabs Souvlaki, both Lamb ($10) and Chicken ($8.50). The lamb was fresh and flame-broiled but under seasoned. The chicken was better, with tender pieces of grilled white meat. Both orders were rolled in fresh pita bread with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and red onions.
The Gyros ($8.50) were served “Chicago Style” with crispy edges on the shaved meat. It was a very generous portion wrapped in the same soft pita. We tried the Greek fries ($3.50), which are tossed with herbs and feta cheese. They were standard London “chips” with a little spring in their step.
An order of Moussaka ($11.50) is like a Greek Shepherd’s Pie. The layered dish incorporates ground beef, grilled eggplant, tomatoes, béchamel sauce, crumbled feta and is topped with an amazingly light whipped potato, then baked. This is served with a side of fries, rice or grilled vegetable medley. I chose the medley of zucchini squash, red bell pepper and onion. The paper-thin veggies were not the highlight, but the Moussaka was a hearty dish by itself.
To sample a wide variety of Greek and Cypriot favorites, consider Yiayia’s Meze or the vegetarian Thea’s Meze ($35-$45, served 2-3). Cypriot wine, Greek beer and coffee selections further transport diners to the Mediterranean. A sweet ending to your meal is classic honey-drenched baklava layered with walnuts ($4.50 for two pieces).
As with many similar London eateries, the storefront has the open kitchen, which is front-loaded with seating scattered toward the back. The ambiance is warm and friendly. A packed house on a Tuesday evening led me to believe many neighbors have already become regulars.