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Photo by: Shannon DeCelle

This Road Leads to Greece
By Laura Leon

Aegean Breeze
327 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-4110. Serving dinner Thu-Tue 5-9:30, closed Wed (open seven days July-August)
Europa Cafe
389 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-9085. Serving lunch and dinner 11-9 daily. AE, MC, V.
Cuisine: authentic Greek
Entrée price range, Aegean Breeze: $9.95 (pasta with fresh tomato and basil) to $27.95 (Poseidon’s Platter, featuring lobster tail, stuffed clams and shrimp, grilled salmon and scallops)
Ambience: Aegean—rustic bungalow; Europa—airy converted barn
Clientele: understated locals and New York City-twanged frequent fliers

Too often, what passes for Greek food in these parts is an abundance of Romaine lettuce showered with feta, blackened meat on a stick, or soggy grape leaves stuffed with an unrecognizable mash of starch and meat. Where is the essence of lemon, or olives, or herbs like oregano and mint? Keep in mind that Greece gives its civil servants paid leave in November so that they may return to their villages to help harvest olives. Clearly, both the produce and eating habits maintain an enormous role in modern life. Here, however, even in “authentic” Greek restaurants that I have gone to, restaurants that are run by Greek families, I have found the food to be blatantly tailored to the bland palette of the Anglo diner: pasty rice and frozen veggie mix astride a charred piece of inferior meat, buffeted by a surfeit of dry pita.

For those of you whose appetites crave the salty taste of the Aegean, there are Aegean Breeze and its casual counterpart, Europa Café, in Great Barrington, Mass. Open two years and half a year, respectively, these homey outposts on the increasingly busy Stockbridge Road are about as close as one can get, outside of Manhattan, to the real deal. Owner George Neofytides, a New Yorker, and chef George Cami have done a superlative job of ensuring a quality, mouthwatering menu at prices that appeal not just to second homers but locals as well.

Europa Café, located just behind its partner, is Neofytides’ lunch place, although it also features a happening bar stocked with a nice selection of wines and liquors. Spacious, almost like a converted barn, and filled with light, this is an ideal spot to while away a mealtime, to relax over espresso and a book, or, in our case, to treat my mother to a feast of flavors. Takeout—and a smattering of Greek groceries and baked goods—are available, at a clean, glassed-in counter, above which a blackboard spells out the sandwich specials. We chose sit-down service, provided by a very young boy who, for all his cheerfulness, could have stood some training.

We arrived at the hour when brunch still beckons, but lunch looks pretty tempting too, so we ordered a lot from each side of the menu. We began with a platter of dips, including tzatziki (yogurt with garlic, cucumber and fresh dill), melitzana (roasted eggplant spread with garlic, olive oil, feta and parsley), and taramas (carp roe mousse with potato and olive oil). The danger in something this good is in the uncontrollable overeating. Each dip was unique, so much so that even when sampling five different varieties, the tastes didn’t congeal to one weird amalgamation. The accompanying pita was freshly baked and still warm, easily yielding to scoop the dip. We also tried the saganaki, pan-fried kefalograviera cheese usually doused with butter and brandy and set aflame. Euorpa foregoes the pyrotechnics, which weren’t missed in light of the deceptively delicate flavorings of the dish.

Our table resembled a veritable potluck, with one son ordering a burger, a lusciously grilled hunk of prime quality beef on a sturdy roll; Gram opting for a Greek omelet; and me choosing a grilled vegetable panini. Rounding out the mix were keftedes, Greek meatballs inflected with a hint of herbs and dolloped with fresh tomato sauce that had me forsaking all things green in favor of red meat, and avgolemeno. The latter, a traditional Greek chicken soup, had the kind of broth, and a touch of creamy egg and lemon, that leads one to remember it long after, to crave it on dreary gray days, as if a mere spoonful is all it takes to banish thoughts of winter and transport one to sunnier outposts.

We returned, sans Gram, one night recently for dinner, this time at Aegean Breeze. Initially, I was nervous about bringing three little boys, as the restaurant does not have highchairs or booster seats. That usually sends a pretty clear message about how welcome children are, but in this case our fears were unfounded. The staff, from hostess to busboys, were warm and hospitable. (OK, it helped that my kids were on their best behavior.) At 6:30, the place hadn’t filled up yet, but there were a number of seniors, the stereotypical “early bird” diners, save that these people were discussing the politics of WAMC and tonight’s episode of SNL rather than Medicare benefits and the price of bus fare.

We were seated in the restaurant’s perimeter, a sort of front porch area surrounded by gleaming windows facing Stockbridge Road. One could easily forget the large Price Chopper sign just across the street as soon as the food started coming and the lights were dimmed. In this instance, we again tried the assortment of dips, this time receiving, in addition to what we had tried before, skordalia and feta ktipi, all with pita. Charcoal-grilled roasted red peppers, marinated in balsamic vinegar and spiked with fresh garlic and olive oil, were firm and lush, almost sensual. Aegean Breeze also offers hot appetizers such as pan fried or charcoal grilled calamari, grilled octopus and mussels in fresh tomato sauce with feta and herbs. Additionally, they feature vegetable dishes such as panzaria, beets marinated in olive oil and garlic, and horta, seasonal greens with lemon and olive oil.

To reward the boys for being so good, we didn’t push them into trying new things; they shared an order of pasta with chicken and vegetables in a red sauce that was worthy of a stealing a few bites from. Many of Aegean’s pasta dishes feature fish like mussels and salmon, but there are also several vegetarian options, reflecting Greece’s largely vegetarian (by necessity) past. We forewent red meat, although the grilled quail with lemon, olive oil and herbs looked promising, and chose what many called the restaurant’s strong suit, fish. My grilled lavraki, a whole fish filleted and served with a hint of olive oil, lemon and herbs, was masterfully done, the meat slightly sweet in the way that fresh, good seafood is, and firm. In an attempt to sample many things at once, my husband gamely tried Poseidon’s Platter (at $27.95, the priciest item on the menu), a modern upgrade on the broiled fisherman’s platter that my dad favored. Featuring creamy/firm lobster tails, delectable, lightly grilled scallops, and rosy salmon, the dish was a big hit. However, the shrimp, stuffed with crab meat and herbs, was sort of gluey, and the stuffed clams could have used more lemon, more oil, and less breading.

Served alongside these splendors were lemon-roasted potato wedges and steamed zucchini and peppers, both of which demonstrated the superlative Greek way with simple vegetables, transforming the humble to the sublime.

In Greece, seasonal fruits typically end the meal. Aegean Breeze offered a variety of sorbets, and, perhaps more to the liking to the modern sweet tooth, baklava, rice pudding and galaktobouriko, vanilla custard in phyllo dough, accented with cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar.

With its golden, creamy colored walls, wood beams and gentle lighting, not to mention the homey aromas emanating from the kitchen, Aegean Breeze is the kind of place at which one likes to linger over dessert or espresso, or at the bar, over a glass of wine or the traditional Greek favorite, ouzo. Indeed, on our visit there, the bar was knee-deep in people engaged in conversation and, more often than not, platters of enticing food. In some cultures, in some places, one’s food is separate from one’s conversation. One may be speaking while having dinner, but the two, however simultaneous, are separate actions. At Aegean Breeze, however, the meal is part of the essence of being, is included in the act of conversing, as much as one’s breathing is a part of it. There can be no finer tribute to a restaurant, that it transforms basic eating into nourishment of the mind and soul.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Aegean Breeze or Europa Cafe, or other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with Laura? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

Actually one of the things I usually like about B.A.'s reviews, that was missing here, is that he often brings his family, specially his child to these meals and includes their dining experiences in his columns. As a parent who is always looking fo kid-friendly places that also serve good food that I'd want to eat, so I especially enjoy "his take" on what his daughter orders and how she likes it too, as well as the entire dining experience...

Margo Matzdorf
East Greenbush

I have never been to Ogdens but look forward to the dining experience. B.A.,,your review leaves me anticipating a delicious dining experience. Thank you for the suggestion, it is fun to try new things and I will let you know how I liked it,although, as usual, I am sure you are right on the mark.

Mary Pezdek

It's me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings of prepared, marketed fried things. Even Chicken Fingers.

I could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens to be perfectly honest. I read the review mostly because my office stares right at it's front door and we all watched as the refurbishing was done. My problem here today is with your first two paragraphs.

The kind of news article that bugs you is what percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes or less preparing food!?!? You know what kind of news article bothers me? "Remains of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......" or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from injuries sustained in shootout with suspect." I realize food and it's service and preparation may be the all consuming obsession in your life, but please tell me you have a bigger heart than that.

Maybe the reason "44 percent of weekday meals in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or less.." is that some people work 2 or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent with young children, who may only have less than 30 minutes to spare.

But I promise you this, the next time I get 35 minutes or so.........I'll order some Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms and the ingredients to make a proper buerre blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie, apron and plenty of snotty attitude and invite you over for dinner.

Are Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?

Mark Eriole
East Greenbush

I really love this guys knack for picking "the best kept secrets" in the Capital District. Way to go B.A.! Keep up the good work!

Mike Aldrich
Rensselaer

Laura Leon's review was wonderful. Her descriptions of the various selections made me hungry. I am saving the review and putting it on my refrigerator to remind me to take a busman's holiday to Great Barrington for melitzana.

Joanne Lue
Albany



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