In my experience, quail usually turns up on the menus of places that are either French and pricey, or quite proud of their game dishes. And, of course, pricey.
But the last place I spotted quail on a menu was neither of these. The two quail in question, grilled over a charcoal fire and served with plump, oregano-dusted french fries, are available at a charming little place in the heart of Greektown -- and they cost $7.25.
I had passed Zorba's on a couple of occasions, and it definitely looked worthy of investigation. Yes, it is listed with directory assistance, rather unpromisingly, as Zorba's Bar and Grill. And a bar is the first thing you'll see when you poke your head in the door. But this is no neighborhood dive. That bar is handsome carved oak, and the dining room is simple and pretty, with white walls, blue trim, silk wisteria twining the stair rail, and lots of pictures of Anthony Quinn. A picture window gives diners a good view of the activities in the kitchen, and of chickens and kebabs turning on spits over the charcoal bed. (According to the proprietor, there is often a lamb cooking there as well, but I'm squeamish enough to be glad that this wasn't one of those days.)
Charcoal cooking is the specialty of the house, but the old Greek favorites are available as well, and, as usual, the appetizers could make an ample, bargain-priced meal all by themselves. Thick, lemony avgolemono soup ($1.50) was made with an especially tasty chicken stock. Although the Greek village salad ($2.50) could have used a bit more feta, it was blessed with a sprightly dressing and ripe un-January-like tomatoes. Instead of the usual platter of flaming melted cheese, Zorba's saganaki ($3.25) arrived at the table sans flame, a large golden envelope of tangy cheese with a crusty exterior and oozy insides. Although my companion missed the expected saganaki dramatics, neither of us could fault the flavor.
The fried calamari ($7.95) were exemplary: lots of squid, crunchy batter, no grease, and plenty of lemon wedges to help bring out the delicate seafood flavor.
Because we were already gorging on cheese and calamari, we didn't complain when the owner apologetically informed us that our quail had met a cruel fate in the charcoal pit. While the quail that eventually arrived weren't the hit of the meal -- coaxing the meat off these little birds is not a task for the hungry or the impatient -- they had a dark richness that made us think of a leaner version of duck, and the slightly charred taste of the charcoaled skin had the flavor of summer.
Because of the slight misadventure we were also treated to samples of the house's too-sweet-to-be-believed desserts, including a splendid baklava, heavy on the nuts.
Where: 4710 Eastern Ave.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Credit cards: No credit cards accepted.
Features: Greek dishes, charcoal-cooked meats.
Non-smoking section? No.
$ Call: (410) 276-4484