Every so often, I get the desire to head out in a large group to have dinner. This doesn’t happen too often because I have been burned far too many times by the person who will order lobster and then throw ten dollars on the table and depart. This is why a small calculator accompanies me to large gatherings... just in case.
Luckily, I have not had to resort to that in many years. So, it was with this in mind that I accepted the invitation from a group of friends to meet for dinner. Since we were coming from various parts of the Valley, I suggested we try a little place on the West Side called the Golden Greek. This little place had been recommended by Mike, one of my co-workers, who is a big fan of the place.
We all agreed to meet there and have dinner, so I got Dave the Roommate and Neil into the car and we would be meeting Phil, Sean and Al. We arrived at the location and parked. The Golden Greek is in an old and worn strip mall just north of 35th Avenue and Glendale Avenue. We walked in and Sean and Al were good enough to have secured a table for us.
The interior of the Golden Greek is an interesting mix of murals of Greece, silk plants and the occasional candle. This is all situated in a tiny dining room that holds all of eleven tables. We took a seat and were chatting up a storm while we waited for our server.
Soon enough, the server for the whole dining room arrived bearing menus and waters. She then took our drink orders. All soft drinks and iced tea were $1.50 and we had three iced teas and three sodas on the table in no time. Our server patiently waited for us as we all made our choices.
Dave decided to tackle the Italian side of the menu and went with the Manicotti ($6.95). Neil and I both chose the Keftedes Dinner ($6.95). Al went with the Gyros Plate ($7.50). Sean wanted the Greco-Roman mix and had the Pasta El Greco ($7.75), which Phil was making a meal of two appetizers: the Spanakopita ($4.25) and the Keftethakia ($4.50). With the exception of Phil, we all were given a choice of a Greek Salad or Augolemono Soup.
We also wanted some appetizers and decided to start with an order of the Hummus ($3.95), a serving of the Tzatziki ($3.75), and the Saganaki ($4.95).
It wasn’t more than a few minutes before the Hummus and Tzatziki arrived. The hummus was in a bowl and the mixture of ground chickpeas, tahini and olive oil was smooth and silky. The pita bread was fresh and warm, but not so soft as to lose its shape. A drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of paprika rounded out the dish.
The tzatziki was cold and creamy. It had a very strong cucumber flavor which I enjoyed. However, this wasn’t the best tzatziki I had ever had. Phil, however, fell in love with it.
Next out was the Saganaki. This was a casserole dish filled with baked Kaseri Cheese. The cheese was like molten lava and I scooped up a bit with some of the pita. It was delicious. The cheese was smooth in texture, but it had a substantial tang to it that really had us all fighting over it and the remaining pita. It was clearly a heart-stopper of a dish, but wonderfully tasty.
We had finished the bulk of the appetizers when our server brought out the soup and salad. The salad was a small salad bowl filled with plenty of lettuce, onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olives, all dressed in a zesty Greek dressing. The consensus of the salad was that it was very good, with a big emphasis on the dressing. From my vantage point, it did look very appealing.
I, however, couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the Augolemono soup. This was a substantial bowl of chicken broth that had been dressed with egg and lemon. It was rich, earthy and tart from the lemon juice. I was in love from the first bite. I could have easily made this bowl of soup and a serving of pita bread a filling and perfect lunch.
Our drinks were refreshed and while we waited for our meals, we were all chuckling over the noises coming from the kitchen. The Golden Greek is a family operation and, as warned by my co-worker, they family acts like a family in the kitchen. So, we started hearing family members yelling at each other in Greek in the kitchen. Oddly, it just added charm to the place because you got the feeling that this is just the way the family communicates with each other.
Our server arrived with the first round of plates. Neil and I were served our Keftedes and the scent was drool inducing. Three large, flattened Greek meatballs were covered with a tomato sauce and served with rice and a mixture of green beans and chickpeas. The meatballs were delicately spiced and the tomato sauce was slightly sweet. Combined with the rice, this was a killer dish that was substantial and pleasing to the palate. The green bean and chickpea side was okay, but not my favorite because it was in a tomato-based sauce which, along with the keftedes, was a just a bit too much tomato for my taste.
Dave’s manicotti was a big hit with him. Two large tubes of pasta were filled with plenty of cheese and then topped with a simple tomato sauce and baked until bubbling. Dave said that the manicotti was very good, but would have preferred the sauce to be a bit spicier. Still, he did enjoy it and recommended it to everyone at the table.
Al’s Gyros Plate was a full plate of the traditional beef and lamb slices, served with onions and tzatziki sauce. The green bean and chickpea mixture was also on the plate. Al grabbed some of the pita and stuffed it with the meat, onions, and sauce and said it was a very hearty and delicious meal.
Sean’s Pasta El Greco was a really interesting dish. Spaghetti has been tossed with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and feta cheese. Sean dove into the dish and was very pleased with his selection. It looked very fresh and Sean said the combination of feta and garlic was a hit.
Phil got his plate of Spanakopita and his plate of Keftethakia. I knew that he would enjoy the Keftethakia as that was simply the meat portion of my Keftedes. Sure enough, he did. He liked the light spicing of the meat and the fact that they were very tender and moist portions.
However, he was more thrilled with his Spanakopita. Five large triangles of phyllo dough stuffed with spinach and feta sat on a plate just begging to be eaten. Phil was in heaven and said the phyllo was crunchy and buttery and the spinach was great. He must have loved it since he devoured the triangles in record time.
Our server then brought out a basked of rolls and butter. They were pretty basic, but filled a niche in the meal.
We sat and ate as much as we could, but ultimately, there was simply too much food for us. The portion size on everything was quite large. Even though all six of us were heavy eaters, there was still plenty of food on the table when we finished.
Our server returned and offered us dessert. We all put our hands to our bellies and begged not to be tempted. We graciously declined and our server said we had to try the Baklava (gratis). So she brought us out a large piece of the rich dessert and six forks. We each took a bite and that did us in. The Baklava was wonderful. Crisp, sweet, spicy and nutty. We were licking our lips, but just didn’t have any more room.
We asked for our check and we were presented with our $72.10 bill, which included tax. Considering the amount of food we had for six people, the total meal was a bona fide steal. The service was pleasant and often motherly. As we departed, I mentioned that I felt like I had just had dinner at grandma’s house. Everyone agreed and we went our separate ways.
Our trip to The Golden Greek was really special for me. It was pure comfort food with a fun atmosphere, plentiful portions and great entertainment coming from the kitchen. I would go back in a heartbeat.
And the best part of the meal was that I didn’t have to pull out the calculator.
The Golden Greek
7126 North 35th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85051
Notes: Portions are quite large.
Other photos for this review can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com