At Karpathos, just do as the Greeks do

June 17, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

The food looked wonderful. Baked eggplant and tomato filled to the brim with a Greek stuffing. Long-roasted chicken, tender and homey. Golden rings of fried calamari piled high on a plate.

The problem was, the food was not on our table. In fact, it was not even on the menu. These were specials the night we visited this new Greek restaurant and carryout on Eastern Avenue.

All the neighborhood regulars, including a priest dressed in black from nearby St. Nicholas, knew the drill. They said a few words in Greek to owner Kostas Papavasilis. Shortly thereafter, a wonderful-looking dinner would arrive.

We found out afterward that the lighted specials board was temporarily down from its spot in the front window. Unaware, we scanned the menu board over the counter, which listed things like omelets, sandwiches and submarines. Asking questions proved tricky, because the owner's English is spotty. His manager, who fills in linguistic gaps, had left before we arrived.

She's the one who told us later that there are 10 specials made daily, including half a roasted chicken for $7 and fresh fish prepared to order for $10. Every day, there also are three homemade soups.

We tried to order the avgolemono but it, like the apple pie we wanted for dessert, never came. It's hard to imagine that it was simply a matter of miscommunication, since the owner and I had a laugh about my pronunciation of the Greek egg and lemon soup.

What did arrive was good and cheap, which is perhaps the best reason to recommend this unassuming carryout, with its banged-up walls and video slot machines. The Greek salad for $3.75 was a big bowl of fresh iceberg lettuce with red-ripe tomatoes, green peppers and cukes, a generous smattering of kalamata olives, and two fat rectangles of feta cheese. The creamy cucumber-garlic dip, tzatziki, a mere $1.50, was served with slices of soft bread, baked that day in the neighborhood.

More delicious tzatziki was wrapped up with thinly sliced, moist gyro meat in a grilled pita with onions and tomatoes. We also liked the souvlaki pita, with chunks of grilled pork seasoned with oregano. Both jumbo sandwiches, held together in a foil wrapper, are $3.50.

We had tried to order the baked chicken, which we spotted someone eating, but instead received grilled chicken breast fillets. They were thin and dry. The stuffed eggplant was sold out, but we did sample a bowl of horta. These simmered greens were dressed simply with Greek olive oil and quartered lemons.

There was something about the home-style goodness of those greens that made us want to come back to try the specials that we missed. And something about the chaotic nature of our meal, the cigarette smoke that drifted from the tables of regulars, and the sound of Greek television in the background, made us feel as if we weren't in Baltimore anymore. We were foreigners in a Greek cafe, observing currents in the stream of local life.

Here's what we learned: If you head to Karpathos, do as the locals do; ask for the specials.

Karpathos

4712 Eastern Ave.

410-522-4922

Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: None accepted

Prices: Appetizers, $1.50-$2; entrees, $3.50-$10

Food: **1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: *1/2

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

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