Thursday, May 24, 2012


Mina & Dimi's Greek House
7159 Highway 90 West
(at Southwest Military)

I'm not that big on Greek food. After the better part of a lifetime trying the various Greek places around town, expecting good food from those places that have clung to the precarious existence offered by the restaurant business in general, I had about decided that, really, there simply was no such thing as good Greek food 'round here. I'd had good Greek food elsewhere in the country, and I've had good Turkish food here in town (and despite the sometime acrid political and historical division between Greek and Turk, when it comes to food, they eat pretty much the same thing, just with different names). But the overriding characteristic of all the Greek places I've been to in town (and setting aside those that are, primarily, Mediterranean — a distinction without a difference, in many ways — I think I've been to all but one of them) is grease. The most popular Greek places, or at least those that seem to survive the longest, appear to cultivate the zen of grease in their food. 

Now, though, I've found Greek food I can recommend, at this casual little strip-center restaurant on the far-West side, right across the freeway from Lackland. For me, a bit of a drive, and that (plus my inauspicious history with Greek food here in Paradise South) is what's kept it on my wish-list for, oh, a couple of years. But today I took a good friend to lunch, and she lives not far from the junction of Highway 90 and Interstate 35, so it seemed that, if I was ever going to drag myself out there for another disappointing meal in a Greek restaurant, this was the day to get it over with.

The place is coolly dark inside, and small. There is a counter at the back where you place your order, and we were concerned that, with almost all the tables occupied and what looked like another small crowd lined up to order, we might not get a seat; but it worked out alright. Turnover at the tables here is brisk enough to accommodate a respectable number of diners.

The menu is straightforward: there are twenty-some-odd pictures over the counter showing the options available. We were behind a group of five young women in training to be Ladies-Who-Lunch, so we had plenty of time to peruse the illustrations while they questioned the counter attendant on everything from gyro to pie, and tried several of the wines offered. (And speaking of pie, it's good that the menu is above the counter, because it kept me from studying the dessert case below ... but a quick glance told me I wanted all of it. But I was good. I was good. I regret it now, but I was good.)

Their long sojourn at the counter gave me time to notice the specials on blackboards on the wall left of the cash register, above the cooler case, and I chose that day's special, grilled filet of basa with potatoes and salad. My friend went for the chicken-on-a-stick, which a more pretentious place might have called chicken kebab, served with fries and a pita.

First off, the fundamentals: the pita bread was outstanding. If it was not baked by an Attic grandmother in a little oven in the back then it must've been flown in by special messenger direct from Athens or Salonika. Soft, fluffy, exquisitely tasty ... nothing like the packaged crap you get at every other local Greek place I can think of. It was paired, on my dish, with a delicious tzatziki sauce also made in the back, and I got a ramekin of very similar salad dressing that, training aside, I ate every drop of. Everything on both plates was, far as I could tell, fresh and home-made. Okay, they probably bought the ingredients from somewhere else, but I'm pretty sure they did everything that needed doing themselves, and they seem to have the kind of standards I would want in a kitchen. Fresher lettuce I have not had in a salad outside my own home when the occasional head, properly guarded from the neighbourhood wildlife, survives to maturity in my back yard. The fried potatoes on my friend's plate were thick-cut and well-fried, just enough to give the edges a little crispiness while succoring the potato flavour of the insides. My potato, I'm going to guess, was boiled, then sautéed lightly in seasoned butter. However it was done, it was done right: they were cooked the requisite amount of time and no longer; they were neither underdone nor mushy. They were excellent.

Last city inspection: April 2012
only 3 demerits
My friend's chicken was seasoned and grilled and she was pleased not just with the chicken but with the honey-mustard sauce it was served with it ... until she tried my tzatziki sauce, a good portion of which ended up coating her chicken and her fries. But the best thing on the table was the grilled fish. It said "basa" on the menu board; basa is a catfish that is native to southeast Asia. Whether it was actually imported basa, as opposed to, say, garden-variety catfish from Mississippi or Louisiana, I couldn't say; the fish and I exchanged no words; I'm not aware of any culinary cachet that Vietnamese catfish has over its good ol' American cousin; and frankly, immigrant catfish looks pretty much the same as native catfish when it's skinned and filleted and lying on a plate. In any case, whatever the fish's ancestry, it was a large filet deliciously and perfectly grilled in oil, cooked all the way through but not to the point of dryness. The oil was applied both liberally and conservatively: there was enough of it to lightly coat the entire fish, but not so much that it pooled on the plate. It was an exquisitely moderate fish; and that, in cooking as in politics, is an art much needed in the world just now.

Though you place your order at the counter, and collect your own utensils, your meal is served to you by the staff, and they are well-trained and capable, as they would have to be to keep such a compact yet crowded place functioning smoothly. Despite its casual nature, the interior is intimate and comfortable, with interesting décor a cut above the usual in such location-specific restaurants, such as too often seem limited to pages torn from travel magazines. And though most of the crowd, not surprisingly, seemed to be in uniform, I think in the evenings this restaurant would make an excellent date venue. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is conducive to quiet conversation, the staff is very good, and the food ... the food is excellent.
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