Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's Greek to me: Saganaki or how to put on a pound in one meal

In the late 1970s my parents took lil'sis & myself everywhere as infants. Babysitters were expensive & we were good sleepers, so we would be popped upstairs fast asleep at dinner parties and posted under the table at restaurants, snug in a carrycot. They like to tell me that at six months I made my first visit to Milou's Kebab House, amongst a plethora of Greek restaurants on Charlotte Street in London's West End.

Although we moved to Kent when I was three, we still ate at Milou's on our frequent day trips to London, and grew up adoring Greek Cypriot food: taramasalata, grilled pitta bread, juicy pork kebabs were our favourites. Xanis & Yanis, Milou's sons, knew us all by name and I can remember every detail of the restaurant. I ate my first persimmon there and discovered that I didn't like bahklava.

Then one day we arrived for Sunday lunch and the restaurant was shut down. We moved across the road to the great Venus Kebab House, but things were never quite the same again. Since lil'sis & I settled in North London, Lemonia in Primrose Hill has become our go-to Greek Cypriot place and I miss eating there.

After our beach outing on Sunday, we looked for a place to eat that wouldn't mind us trailing two damp, sandy, floppy eared hounds behind us.

Basset on Long Branch beach in Fall
(Gratutious wet dog picture)

We settled on a sidewalk table at It's Greek to Me, & I crossed my fingers that it would live up to my expectations.

It may look like a doner/gyro joint, but thank goodness It's Greek to Me is more than the sum of its parts. The menu doesn't just pander to populist tastes, and there is a very good spanakopita (a spinach, feta & filo pastry parcel), and a dish I hadn't eaten before: saganaki, a shallow dish of baked cheese.

saganaki Kefalograviera

Whilst Halloumi, or squeaky cheese, is a fixture on English Greek-Cypriot restaurant menus (& in my fridge), Kefalograviera was new to me. Wiki tells me that Kefalograviera is a traditional DOC Greek ewe’s milk hard cheese from Western Macedonia, Epirus, Etoloakarnania and Evritania, and is the traditional cheese for saganaki.

Utterly delicious, salty, chewy, crispy around the edges, it's great eaten with grilled pitta.

The culinary equivalent of spreading lard on your thighs.

It's Greek to Me, Pier Village, 44 Centennial Drive, Long Branch, NJ 07740
(There are 7 branches in NJ,)