CUISINE: Um, Greek ADDRESS: 1345 Huron Street DATE: August 20, 2013
I am probably a little more like my dad than my mom. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Mom, would you agree with that? I know you are probably just giving this a quick look-see for grammatical errors/typos—that part of you, I inherited—but you can also weigh in on that comment.]
I remember sitting in my parents kitchen one day on a visit home from university, and my mom was complaining about how persnickety my dad was. She mentioned that he was irritated when she added the end of his old bottle of shampoo into his new one.
ME: Well, were they two different kinds?
MOM: Yes, but—-
MEGAN: Well, it can’t be done.
MOM: (smiles bemusedly)
Also, like my father, I will continue talking to you when you’re trying to leave, I will remember the name and face of every person in the history of recorded time, and I really, really enjoy full-flavored food. Spicy peppers, stinky cheese, robust curries…yes please.
It was my dad that first introduced me to Greek food. When I was in high school, my dad started taking over more and more of the evening meal preparation.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: My mom would want me to mention that she cooked the meals, and I would add VERY GOOD MEALS for many years, but my dad gets all the credit for being the chef in our family. I agree, and this is very unfair, and is yet another egregious example of the mysogynistic world we live in.]
My dad loves world cuisine, and started tackling recipes of more complexity.
I’m pretty sure, for example, that I was the only one in my class who was eating Zigni and Injera (see #1, Addis Ababa) for dinner, like, on a Wednesday.
My very favourite of these exotic dishes was Pastitsio, a greek dish that is reminiscent of lasagna, but made with lamb, and with a creamy béchamel on top. I loved it so much in high school that it became something that was on the regular menu rotation, along with tacos and, like, hot dogs and Kraft Dinner.
Because we weren’t alwaysfancy.
I thought it appropriate, knowing my dad’s affection for Greek food, that they join us at The Dancing Greek.
Located on Huron and Highbury, The Dancing Greek Taverna started life as a cafe, and then a family restaurant, like Hooks or the Seven Dwarfs. Despite extensive renovations, the interior of this restaurant, located in the corner of the plaza that also houses Talize, still has a bit of that vibe. It’s like you can still smell the Grandparent-bait roast beef.
My mom says this restaurant has “no atmosphere”. But it does have murals. And too-bright lighting.
We were served by a boisterous and raspy-voiced waitress who described herself as “Greeklish”. She was very friendly and enthusiastic, and in the nicest possible way, corrected EVERY ATTEMPT we made at pronouncing the dishes we were ordering.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you know her, this waitress was a Greek Sue Silcox.]
She told us that The Dancing Greek made everything from scratch, and attempted to prepare things as authentically as possible.
She then started us off with the drink specials, which were, in the most AUTHENTIC WAY, $5 margaritas.
Nothing says Traditional Greek cooking like a Mexican Bulldog in a Fishbowl.
My dad ordered it.
I, on the other hand, ordered the much more authentic tropical margarita, with blue curaçao, pineapple juice and tequila. Hey. It was margarita night.
The fam and I perused the menu, and quickly decided on three appetizers, and a platter to share of popular dishes: souvlaki, sausage, moussaka (an eggplant casserole) and of course, pastitsio. But our waitress had the sad task of informing us that they were out of pastitsio, and that they were just making more. ME: (eagerly) Is it almost ready? We would be willing to wait. WAITRESS: How’s tomorrow for you? We settled on gyros instead, and started on our ginormous drinks. My mom’s margarita seemed to be doused with salt, not just around the rim but in the drink, but a quick return of the waitress furnished her with a fresh one.
Dad’s almost finished the fishbowl. No wonder we found it way TOO BRIGHT in this restaurant.
Our appetizers arrived fairly quickly, and the flavours made a great first impression. The presentation of things left a little to be desired, but it kind of went with the decor.
The traditional grape leaf dolmades were served warm, with a custardy lemon sauce on top. Very flavourful, with tender meat and rice inside and a fresh, briny flavour that was really impactful.
This spanikopita was some of the flakiest and lightest I’ve ever had. Very soft and pillowy spinach and cheese in the centre. I thought it could have used a little more garlic flavour, but mostly we just oohed and ahhed over the texture of the pastry. Wow.
Those hunks of feta were about the size of the palm of my hand. That’s a great start. I love this chunky, village-style greek salad, with just peppers, cucumber, tomatoes and olives, but I am constantly perplexed why they always serve the olive in this salad intact. But I can’t fault the Dancing Greek for that, they do it everywhere.
I have long held the belief that I HATE OLIVES, but lately I’ve liked them in artisanal restaurants in New York, at Murray’s cheese bar, in this salad. The AZ Resto Tour has really clarified for me things that I’m drawn to (gnocchi, goat cheese, briny things) and things repelled by (food served at BUNGALOW).
At a certain point, I think I’m going to have to have a sit-down with Ian to break the news to him: I think I LIKE olives.
The thing is, Ian and I have very, very similar palettes. We both love spice, dislike tomatoes, have grown to love cilantro and agree that brown rice is just as good as white, and maybe even a bit “nuttier”. We dislike the terms “mouth-feel” and “fork-tender”, but we use them ironically to bother each other.
If I start liking olives, this is a major divergency in our shared flavour preferences.
By the way, our similar tastes also apply to clothes, movies, and people. If Ian doesn’t like someone, I often realize I’m wrong and stop liking them, too.
Our Platter for Four included our choices of 8 signature dishes. Since they were OUT OF PASTITSIO, my very favourite of all the Greek dishes, we went with souvlaki, gyro with rice and fixin’s, Greek sausage, and moussaka with fingerling potatoes.
The gyro meat was flavourful, and the tzatziki was delicious, but came with wayyy too little. Like, a thimbleful of tzatziki on a large platter of rice, gyro meat, and as it turned out, pretty dry chicken and sausages. We asked for more, and were given some, but told they “don’t really do that”.
The fingerling potatoes were nice, as we’re the few veggies, but the real star of this plate is that beige blob up top. While it didn’t look like much, this eggplant, potato, beef and béchamel sauce, with flavours of dill and oregano, was sinful.
MOM: I would trade everything else just for a bigger plate of this.
I think our overall feeling was that the appetizers outshone the entrees, with the exception of the moussaka.
And since the portions were not very large, we got dessert. The baklava was honey-soaked and flaky, and very sweet, as is to be expected. For $7, we got two large triangles of the good stuff. Our only complaint would have been about the myriad of plate detritus. Caramel, chocolate, whipped cream and a cherry, as well as powdered chocolate covered every inch of the plate.
As my mom said, “It’s baklava. It doesn’t need all this other…STUFF.”
The Dancing Greek is large, friendly, and not busy at all on a Tuesday. But despite the cheap drinks, our total bill came to about $160, which is maybe more than the lack of ambiance and some of the quality would dictate.
I’m not going to fall in love with any Greek restaurant that fails to serve me pastitsio. But I did have some last week: on my birthday, Ian slaved away in the kitchen all day to make me some. And it was DELICIOUS.
Because I married a guy who can really cook. Just like Mom.