Rejuvenated Petros finds a winning combination

MATTER OF TASTE

February 13, 1992|By Mary Maushard

Ever have the feeling that you've just discovered a place that's about to become very hot? That you're in the first of many waves?

Me neither -- until a recent Saturday when my husband and I dined at Petros, a nearly invisible restaurant at Howard and 25th streets.

We had eaten there once several years ago, shortly after Petros opened, and found it lacking by the standards of Greektown. And we knew that the restaurant, suffering from the recession, had closed last year.

Closed restaurants usually stay that way. Even among those that reopen, the chances of survival often seem dim.

But if the dining public's reaction to the reopened Petros is an indication, its chances of surviving -- and of thriving -- seem good indeed.

This small restaurant with about 15 tables was virtually full by the time we left, shortly before 8 p.m. Even the staff was surprised at how full.

''When do you close?'' we asked.

''Usually about 10 p.m., but the food may not hold out that long,'' was the answer.

Food is, indeed, the main drawing card at Petros. But there are other attractions: good prices; very friendly service; a well-executed Greek village decor.

Petros is a minimalist restaurant -- and not just from the outside. The bar has one scotch, one gin, probably one of whatever else might be ordered. There is no bartender; the servers make their customers' drinks. The menu is small, by Baltimore's Greek standards, with the prices written in. Even the chairs seem a bit undersized.

But what Petros does well, it does very well. The restaurant we remembered as a cut below what Baltimoreans expect when it comes to Greek can now hold its own.

I began with Mezes ($4.50), two good-sized spinach and cheese pies wrapped in filo. I had had cheese pies lots of places and I had had spinach pies lots of places, but never before cheese and spinach together in the same pies. It's a winning combination, especially with the delicacy of Petros' preparation.

My husband had the soup of the day, Fifteen Bean ($1.75). Not too Greek, perhaps, but darn good. It was rich with smoke, lush with the colors, sizes and textures of so many different legumes.

We then split a large Greek Peasant Salad ($3.95). What stood out in Petros' version was the exceptionally good feta (I've never met a feta I didn't like) and the dressing, which had a nice vinegary edge that is unusual in traditionally more oily Greek dressings.

For my entree, I ordered Garides Me Feta ($12.95). That's Greek for ''jumbo shrimp sauteed in butter, sherry and garlic served on orzo and topped with feta cheese and tomato sauce.'' The shrimp were extremely large and tender under the feta and tomato topping. The orzo was swimming in a broth that had a somewhat off flavor -- the sherry, perhaps, though it didn't taste like sherry to me.

My husband had a filo-wrapped dish, Spinach Chicken ($10.95). Inside the filo was a boneless chicken breast covered with spinach in a cream sauce. Outside was a good, marinara-style tomato sauce and a mound of slightly above-average rice pilaf.

The rice aside, he enjoyed the dish, which neither of us had seen on other Greek menus. Both entrees were served with sauteed carrots and mushrooms that had no taste.

The bread that came with the meal, while fine for dunking in the bean soup, was too spongy for general consumption.

For dessert, I had Baklava; he, Galatoboureko ($2.25 each). Both are traditional Greek pastries, their dominant qualities being richness, richness and richness. Homey, satisfying, aromatic. Yummy.

As much as we liked the food, we liked the atmosphere. Petros' menu says that, on the Greek island of Mykonos, ''a restaurant is considered an extension of the home; a place to enjoy and dine in a sophisticated, yet comfortable, atmosphere.''

Guess what? They've succeeded.

The maitre d' (and owner) sits at one end of the tiny bar, greeting diners and escorting them to their tables. Everyone is friendly; servers help each other out. At the next table were our waitress' mother and grandfather, whom she introduced to the owner -- and to us.

Though she seemed well-meaning, she was absent-minded, pouring water into our drink glasses and confusing our orders.

Our bill, with two cocktails, a half-carafe of wine ($5.95), two coffees and a Greek coffee, was $59.06. We left with pleasant tastes in our mouths and high hopes for the rejuvenated Petros.

***

Petros Restaurant

136 W. 25th. St.

235-8500.

Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.;

dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9:45 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday.

Reservations: Recommended on weekends.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Not accessible.

Smoking: No-smoking tables can be arranged.

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