Olea Mezze Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Olea sign

Greek is the latest cuisine to be given the assemblage trope.

Olea Mezze Grill is a new fast feeder in Maitland that uses the same conveyor line method as such places as Chipotle, Moe’s and, more recently, Italio. This is the “one from column A, one from column B” sort of process that Chinese restaurants have all but abandoned, but as it’s applied here and at the restaurants named above there are many more choices and decisions to be made, with your decisions carried out by a gaggle of food assemblers behind the sneeze plate glass.

Taverna Yamas

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Yamas interior

Let’s try to figure out why this restaurant is empty. And I mean empty in a big way. In the main dining room of Taverna Yama, I count more than 30 empty tables (three are occupied). There are darkened rooms around the main room of this massive restaurant that seats up to 500 people. In theory.

I don’t think the reason is its International Drive location. That would only explain the dearth of locals. 

Maybe it has to do with the massive fish tank just inside the front door, the fish tank with water so cloudy that it’s nearly impossible to see that there are indeed living things inside it. Maybe people see that and make an assumption about the cleanliness of the place overall.

Or maybe the loud music that’s more appropriate for a dance club turns people looking for a more sedate meal away. (“Gangnam Style” played shortly after I was seated, to give you an idea of the type of music I mean.)

Or maybe they were greeted the way I was, by a surly young man who walked up to me slowly and asked “Can I help you?” as though meeting a bill collector.

Taverna Opa

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Taverna saganakiTaverna Opa could do very well without even trying. The Greek restaurant occupies a large space on the second level of Pointe Orlando, ideally situated in the heart of the tourist corridor in proximity to the Convention Center. It could thrive on the continuous influx of vacationers and conventioneers looking for a diversion, something different, perhaps entertaining, while putting some food in their bellies.

Taverna Opa is certainly something different, even from the usual Greek restaurant. It is a constant party atmosphere, a celebration you’ve wandered into and are made a part of. The traditional Greek dance music plays at a conversation-stopping level, waiters and bartenders frequently throw handfuls of white beverage napkins into the air, creating a sort of large-scale confetti deluge. The staff may persuade you to join them in a line dance that snakes through the multi-room restaurant.

Greek Flame Taverna

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Greek_Flame_logoI had stopped in to the Greek Flame Taverna’s grand opening several weeks ago, but it was so crowded and manic with people having a good time with the buffet service and Greek music that I wasn’t able to get a good feel for the place. (Although having a restaurant so full of fans does say something about the place.)

I returned later to enjoy a more relaxed, less boisterous lunch. And enjoy is the operative word. I had previously sampled some of the meze, or appetizers. I liked the flaky crust of the spanakopita, a turnover-like spinach pie with feta cheese. And the dolmades, stuffed grape leaves with rice and beef. Greek Flame also serves an array of Mediterranean dips, including hummus, tzatziki, taramosalata, melitzanosalata and skorthalia. The latter is a garlic dip, and let’s just say if you’re on a date you’d both better eat it.

Theo's Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Theo’s Kitchen has reopened in its new space on Curry Ford Road. Theo’s had previously resided in the space on the corner of Michigan Street and Delaney Avenue where Theos_KitchenMediterranean Blue recently opened.

The new Theo’s is right next door to the Catfish Joint, which I reviewed recently. It’s a rather austere space: a short narrow room with a counter on the far end where you place your order. You make your choices from the menu board on the wall above the window to the kitchen. Very low tech here -- it’s the old style Coca Cola menu board with black letters pressed into a white field.

There are no descriptions, and some items might not be self explanatory. Such as the gyros. There was a king gyros, a supreme and a platter, but no clues as to what distinguished one from the other. And there were a couple of items on the list that I had no idea about. This is basic marketing -- you want to entice your customers to order something. (You also don’t want to spend all your time answering questions about the menu while a line is forming to order.)

Mediterranean Blue

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mediterranean Blue has finally opened in the little box of a building that housed Theo’s Kitchen for just short of forever. Theo’s
Mediterranean Blue's gyro and stuffed grape leaves.

had occupied the restaurant near the corner of Michigan Street and Osceola Avenue so long that it became nearly invisible. Actually, I think I had just blocked it out of my mind. Despite its longevity and apparent popularity with many others, Theo’s was never a favorite of mine. In fact, I was always put off by the dinginess and questionable cleanliness of the workers I observed.

Theo’s, as I reported in this article several months ago, is relocating to a space on Curry Ford Road. Mediterranean Blue is the project of the children of the building’s landlord. The place has been beautifully spruced up and has a bright and cheery appearance.

Kouzzina by Cat Cora

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Although it has been open not so quietly for the past three and a half weeks, Kouzzina by Cat Cora had its grand opening Thursday with a noontime celebration attended by Cora and several members of her family. It was her way of demonstrating that the new restaurant, which replaced Spoodles on Disney’s BoardWalk, is a place for families to eat, drink and make merry together. What better way to prove that than with a shot of ouzo to toast the opening?

Kouzzina is Greek for kitchen, and the recipes here have been passed down through Cora’s family. There may be some slight alterations here and there as the recipes made their way from Greece to Disney via Cora’s native Mississippi, but there is a sincere attempt for authenticity, and most of what I tasted at the opening was quite delicious and worth recommending.

Taverna Opa

Written by SJO Staff on .

Taverna Opa is Greek gone wild

Frankly, I can Taverna Opa do without all the table-top dancing and the practice of constantly throwing fistfuls of paper napkins into the air that rain down on diners in something like a snowstorm with immense snowflakes. And I've never thought restaurants were the proper place for belly dancers; too much undulating isn't good for digestion.

And don't get me started on the ear-splitting music that accompanies the undulating, throwing and dancing.

But at the base of it all is the good Greek food that makes a dinner at Taverna Opa worth putting up with everything else.

The menu has most of the regulars that diners expect to find on Greek menus, at least in America. So you'll find your mousakas, your pastitsios and dolmades.

But you'll also find things like the lamb rib appetizer ($9), which were like any other ribs you might find in a barbecue joint but with a lemon sauce to offset the gamey flavor.

Country-style sausage ($5) -- Greece being the country in question -- served with red and green grilled peppers were another favorite. So was the taramosalata ($4), a creamy dip of salty fish roe.

Thallasino ($36), a sort of Greek version of the Portuguese cioppino, had a large skillet filled with lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid, crab legs and a grouper fillet in a broth of white wine flavored with lemon and garlic and tinged with tomatoes.

And the more pedestrian mousaka ($12) was a big brick of eggplant, potatoes and beef layers topped with a thick bechamel.
For dessert, be sure to try the house-made yogurt ($5), which had the texture of meringue but a tangy taste tempered by honey. There's baklava ($5) for the traditionalists.

Taverna Opa is in the Pointe Orlando, so the clientele tends to be comprised mostly of out-of-towners. But if you're going to get up on top of a table and dance with a stange woman wearing veils it's probably best that no one knows who you are.

Mayerion Mykonos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

This Longwood cafe is small, only 65 seats, but it’s an appealing place with an exuberant staff and a menu of family heirloom recipes not likely found at the other local Greek restaurants.
The recipes, says Mayerion Mykonos’ owner, Dimitrios Salivaras, have been handed down from his grandparents to his father, who still uses the recipes at the family’s restaurant of the same name in Tarpon Springs, to him. Salivaras cooks those recipes with ease in full view of the entire restaurant.
In fact, Mayerion means open kitchen, nothing more exotic than that, though the pronunciation (MY-eer-e-on) and spelling in Greek alphabet on the menu might make you think so.
Several of the dishes definitely have an exotic taste, even in their simplicity. My favorite among the entrees was the chicken Mykonos ($10.95), which featured several hearty chunks of chicken breast meat sauteed with tomatoes, onions, feta cheese and various fresh herbs to create what the restaurant calls its Mykonos sauce. Not the prettiest dish you’ll ever be served, but certainly tasty.
For an array of tastes the combination platter ($11.45) of pastitsio, moussaka, gyro meat and stuffed grape leaves is the way to go. At many Greek restaurants it’s difficult to distinguish between the moussaka and the pastitsio, and indeed there are similarities. But here they were as distinctive as they were delicious. The pastitsio had large macaroni layered with ground beef and cheese, topped with a thick bechamel sauce. The moussaka had ground beef layered with thick slices of eggplant, baked with the bechamel.
The stuffed grape leaves, called fila here but also known as dolmades, were filled with a rice and ground beef mixture and topped with a sauce made of lemon juice and eggs, a nice complement to the pungent flavor of the grape leaves.
The gyro meat was not special, neither was it served with pita bread. In fact an appetizer dish of three spreads ($9.95), which included a wonderful tzatziki and a rather garlicky feta cheese spread, dips that would ordinarily come with pita, were served with regular leavened bread, good bread, mind you, but not what you’d expect with these spreads. When I asked the server why they didn’t use pita he answered, quite honestly, pita bread is too expensive. One could argue that the profit earned from demanding nearly 10 bucks for three spreads would buy a few packages of pita.
There was more honesty, this time from a different server, when I asked about the fresh fish selection of the day. He told me one wasn’t offered because it came in frozen and hadn’t thawed. When I spoke to Salivaras later on the phone, he told me he buys only the freshest ingredients, including seafood. He may want to have a talk with his staff on that point.
Still, the baked grouper ($17.95) I had instead of the fresh fish of the day was good enough. It was a large fillet, tender and prepared simply with herbs and oil. My guest’s roast leg of lamb ($9.95) was fairly plain and unremarkable, though the juices from the meat were perfect on my rather dry dish of rice. Dinners come with a choice of side dish and either the potatoes or the vegetables make a better choice than the rice.
Diners also get a choice of soup or salad with each entree. The soup on each visit was the traditional avgolemeno soup of chicken broth thickened with egg. Instead of the usual rice Mykonos uses orso. The soup was better on the first visit; it was too watery the second time. Still the soup was better than the salad, an unimaginative Greek salad whose only attraction was a small square of feta cheese sitting oddly atop the lettuce.
For appetizers I heartily recommend the patatokeftedes ($5.95), but don’t eat them there. Have the waiter box up the wonderful patties of mashed potatoes and feta cheese, take them home and have them the next day with fried eggs. A meal fit for Zeus.
The combo appetizer of charbroiled shrimp, octopus and squid ($14.95) offered some different tastes and textures. The shrimp were rather plain, but the half octopus with its black-charred crust and the tender rings of squid drizzled with oil were both wonderful.
For dessert the rice pudding ($1.50) was good, but the galatobutoko ($2.75) was stellar, a creme custard layered in phyllo dough and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Besides being honest to a fault, the servers were all friendly and helpful, and Salivaras made a point of saying hello to every table from over the kitchen’s glass partition.
Mayerion Mykonos is small and narrow but quite comfortable. The tables are uncovered and set with a large container of sea salt and a small pepper grinder. The walls sport bas-relief sculptures of typical structures and landscape features found on the island of Mykonos.
Just for the record, Salivaras’ family is actually from a small island next to Mykonos, but they named their restaurants for the more recognizable tourist mecca. The Mayerion in the name may confuse some – it certainly confounds the directory assistance people when attempting to get a phone number – but don’t let it dissuade you from enjoying some of the fine food from the Greek Isles.