Souvlaki's hours and prices are right

February 27, 1997|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I relished the opportunity to review a new Greektown joint called Souvlaki, since souvlaki is my very favorite Greek specialty. Meat (often lamb or chicken) is marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and other seasonings, then skewered and grilled.

Sometimes the skewers will be crowded with onion and green pepper as well, and often the whole thing will be de-skewered and tucked into warm pita. Smother a souvlaki with tzatziki, a tangy yogurt sauce spiked with cucumber and onion, and you're in Hellenic heaven.

Odiseas Giftopoulos and his brother George opened Souvlaki smack in the middle of Greektown's "souvlaki central" three months ago. The food at this unassuming little storefront has not yet distinguished itself, except for this: Everything is exceedingly cheap and offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Thus far, business seems to be mostly takeout, but a small, bare-bones dining room in back is a pleasant enough spot for sampling the food. American breakfast is served all day (bagels, waffles and eggs in every configuration), as are burgers and garden-variety cold-cut sandwiches. The Greek specialties are a cut above, but on our visit many items were unavailable.

There were no fried calamari to be had, so we settled for dolmades to start. Briny grape leaves enfolded fingers of bland rice filling.

The Greek salad was a little more interesting: iceberg lettuce, onion, tomato and blocks of feta were tossed in a oregano-spiked vinaigrette.

The Souvlaki is situated in the shadow of Baltimore's finest purveyor of chicken souvlaki, Samos, just across the way on Oldham Street. Thus, for me, comparisons are inevitable.

At Samos, ineffably tender chicken chunks - flavored delicately with garlic, lemon and charcoal smoke - are wrapped in thick, buttery pita along with chopped onion and tomato and a smear of tzatziki. At Souvlaki, you may order souvlaki (chicken, beef, pork or fish) on a stick, on pita bread or in a platter with Greek salad and rice or fries. Any way you order it, the meat never reaches the heights achieved over at Samos. The gyro (pronounced "hero") platter, with its peppery, tender minced lamb, is a little more savory than the souvlaki.

Another Souvlaki entree, the "Greek variety plate," contained everything described above, with the addition of an anemic-looking phyllo-wrapped spinach pie. The evening's special of moussaka proved to be our favorite dish (although I ordered it only because the baby lamb chops were out of stock). Ground beef and sweet eggplant were layered with a rich bechamel sauce and potato slices in a stylish Greek take on shepherd's pie.

Desserts are all house-made. On our visit, only baklava was available. While we all consumed it with gusto, we agreed the pastry was not as buttery and syrup-drenched as our favorite specimens.

The restaurant does not have a liquor license, so if you're inclined to drink alcohol, bring your own. Be advised, though: We brought a bottle of red wine that our server promptly opened and served to us in paper cups brimming with ice cubes.

The gaffe, however, didn't detract from the service overall. It was warm and friendly.

Souvlaki

4706 Eastern Ave.

(410) 276-1156

Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: None

Prices: Appetizers, $1.75-$6.50; entrees, $2.50-$12.95

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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