Herculean achievement

Posted on 26 Oct 2008 at 2:17pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer

Phyllo and honey and lamb, opa! Stratos Global Greek Taverna may look like a sports bar, but its cuisine demonstrates Olympian skill

 

ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Rizos family — sons Max, left, and Stratos, right, and nephew Stratos, center — delivers authentic Greek dishes as well as offering Mediterranean twists on other cuisines, especially evident with the specialty platter, which serves two (at least).

In "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the line that probably gets the biggest laugh is when the heroine introduces her fiancé as a vegetarian. "No problem," says her astonished aunt. "I’ll make lamb."

That’s just the way it is with the Greeks: they’re not happy unless you are, and what could be more happiness-inducing than eating tons of rich food, especially meat?

For calorie-counters, "Greek" probably sounds synonymous with "fattening" — heaven knows I always brace myself to feel logy after a meal of olives, feta and phyllo. But the brilliant thing about the food at Stratos Global Greek Taverna is that it’s all so freshly made and voraciously tasty, you gladly commit to an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill if it means you can enjoy one more plate of fried cheese, or an equally sinful dessert.

On the surface, Stratos looks more like sports bar or nightclub than a restaurant that prepares excellent Mediterranean cuisine. There’s a dance floor and televisions dotting the room, and the vibe is casual, always with the potential of becoming rowdy. Still, it’s impossible to leave the place without a smile … albeit one that may betray bits spinach between your teeth. (Ah, spanikopita — yum.)

Stratos is family-owned, and that family is first-generation Greco-American; the name of one of proprietor Nick Rozos’ sons (and a nephew) is "Stratos." When the menu says "Mom’s recipe," you bet the original was probably scrawled on a leaf of papyrus within eyeshot of Crete. Authenticity is not a problem.

Unless, of course, you never realized how much lemon and olive oil and bay leaf and oregano and cheese go into Greek cooking — hell, into the entirety of the Mediterranean food (Turkish, Italian and North African influences are detectable in many dishes — there’s a reason "Global" is in the name). This is not a shy cuisine with timid flavor profiles.

So, when my dining companion took his first bite of the chicken lemonatto ($13.99; $10.95 at lunch) and his face began to contort orgiastically as the tang from the lemon-butter coated his tongue, I knew we’d have to gird ourselves for a big meal. Certainly he had reason to be impressed: the scallopini-style breast, pounded flat and grilled beautifully in bread crumbs, soared with a drizzling of that creamy sauce. They could bottle it.

Indeed, the lemon-butter is shared generously on other entrees, such as the marvelous tilapia ($13.99/$10.95 — like the chicken, flat grilled with sautéed vegetables). And we weren’t above dipping our pita into whatever was left after the entrées were done.

As in the movie, lamb, that gamiest of domestic meats, really is a Greek specialty, as the lamb chops — available on the extravagant but so-worth-it platter for two, or alone in a rack — conclusively demonstrated. Cooked medium rare and practically breaded with sprigs of oregano, the juicy and succulent chops proved knee-weakening.

Lamb makes up only about 20 percent of the islands’ signature sandwich, the gyro. Stratos’ incarnation ($9.99/$7.95), with strips of rotisserie loaf (mostly beef) shaved into a folded pita and doused with tzatziki sauce, onions and tomatoes, was as good as I’ve had anywhere. Again, it’s the housemade sauces that set the bar high.

Moussaka was always a joke in my family: an eggplant casserole that my mom could never pull off. But "Mom’s moussaka" here ($13.99) refers to Rizos’ mother, and she clearly knows a trick or two for making a stand-out dish. Topped with a wonderful béchamel, it’s bested only by the pastitsio ($13.99). The peasant-style lasagne — savory cinnamon-and-nutmeg infused macaroni and beef — may surprise those who think of pasta dishes as being the realm of Italians.
A number of dishes include feta cheese, but you might not recognize it on first glance. On dishes as different as baked feta ($6.99) and a Greek salad ($5.99), you’re presented not with the familiar rough-hewn shards of crumbly curd but with a thin, lush slip of white goat cheese. The baked version arrives domed on a ragout of fresh tomatoes, warm and surprisingly gooey.


FLAMING: The sagnaki (an imported cheese) is finished tableside with the addition of brandy and a match.

Cheeses (feta and others) make numerous appearances throughout the extensive menu, so often you could get lost enjoying them without coming near a protein. The Greek cheese fries ($5.99) — a nest of julienne potatoes, cheddar, feta and a dusting of oregano — add a welcomed addictive twist the pub-grub cliché, and while it may never have occurred to you before to order nachos at a Greek restaurant, queso made partly with feta is a treat, and the flaming saganaki ($6.49) makes not only good theater but an intoxicatingly rich appetizer.

At a time when restaurants that serve everything from sushi to barbecue always have a crème brulee to bore us with, the mere existence of the galaktabouriko ($3.99) is cause for celebration; that this sweet, orange-infused amalgam of baked butter, milk, phyllo, cinnamon and honey also happens to be spectacular in its unusualness is a bonus. It’s no coincidence that the root word for "galaxy" and the custard-y "galaktabouriko" dessert is the same in Greek — this meal-ender is out of this world.

All the desserts are easy to recommend: Aphrodite’s chocolate passion (a delish mousse cake that burbles over with caramel), tira misu and, of course, the Mediterranean staple baklava (nut clusters with — natch — phyllo and honey).
Service is stereotypically "Greek:" big, friendly, bold. Let Nick Rizos get hold of you and he’ll make a convincing case for trying one of the Greek wines they sell (definitely worth a try), or ask you if you’ve been in for brunch or come back for one of their half-priced nights (dinners Mondays and Tuesdays, wines Sundays and Wednesdays). But every server we’ve ever had has been knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food.

In fact, Stratos does pose an enviable dilemma: From the scampi to the dolmathes to the souvlaki to the tiropita (layers of phyllo and cheese brushed with butter and baked), you could eat here for a month and not taste everything.
My trainer probably wouldn’t approve. But I’m willing to give it a try.
Stratos Global Greek Taverna, 2907 W. Northwest Highway. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 214-352-3321.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.

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