Sunday, April 13, 2008

All Greek To Me- TKTC Culture/Food Crush

I'm genuinely hoping that this next statement doesn't rub anyone the wrong way either by exclusion or by any stale stereotype.

I have a culture crush on the Greeks.

There. I said it. I should also say that this is not my first culture crush (the French, the Jews) but as I get older I get a clearer idea as to why this happens. You see, I, like many of you I'm sure, am a bit of an All-American mutt. My mother's side Irish-Catholic and my dad's Russian Jew. All of my grandparents were born here so we're not talking close ties to the motherlands. I was raised Lutheran. I'm agnostic at this point but am still intrigued by religion in terms of the roles (good and bad) it plays in the world at large.

My point here is that while every single member of my family finds different cultures fascinating, we kinda made it up as we went. Again, in our defense, we've done just fine. But I've always craved the color and the history of really rich traditions. It's a thing.

And it's not as though my Greek fascination just started. To the contrary, starting around age 7 I was OBSESSED with ancient Greek mythology and this led me into the geography and world events that started filtering into my textbooks. In Brownies, one of the girl's in our troop was Greek Orthodox and I remember thinking about how cool her church sounded. In Etymology I always seemed to find an excuse to favor the words with Greek rather than Latin roots.
The Greek key pattern always finding a way onto my doormats and bright blue and crisp white is an all-time favorite combination. More of a quirky fascination than anything practical or PC. This only got worse when McGulliver and Tina headed to Greece in February and had the time of their lives.

Yes yes yes, I know I'm about to get called out. The Hellenic infatuation has reached such great heights recently because I've been involved-ish with someone who teems with everything I've always understood "Greek" to be. And when I start to list those things, I see a lot of myself there too(the good parts anyway). Passion for family, food and a great story. Better at life to the tune of something beautiful and happiest near the water. Lover and Fighter in that order. Value in the academic. Full of pride and the product of strong women. Devout love of olive oil and all things brought about in a Mediterranean climate. I get all kinds of proud when people tell me I could even PASS for Greek (curls, shape & wild gesticulations I suppose).

So I've had my antennae up. Picking up bits and pieces where I can, with help along the way from some very willing sources (Jaimeson, P, the bartender at Venus). The best way to figure a part of the world out? Well, eating, obviously. So I've been doing a bit of that too and the two restaurants TKTC is featuring today are Venus in Greektown and Angelo's Taverna in Old Town.

My trip to Venus came about thanks to P, who's father charmed me with his Greekness on our way to Mexico over Christmas. She's since been a good PR buddy to have around although we talk about as much shopping as we do "shop." We were due for another dinner date and since I'd never been to Greektown (some lover I am), she humored me with a restaurant I'd been dreaming about since seeing it on Check, Please. I LOVE Check, Please.

I arrived a good 15 minutes early as Venus has free valet and apparently Greektown is all of 7 minutes from my apartment. Not even kidding, how was I missing this?! So I get in there and start chatting with the bartender who is quite simply a fabulous woman. The two men sitting down the bar buy me a glass of wine for "bringing beauty into the restaurant." I don't know about that, but I'll take the wine and the bartender introduces me to her Mexican husband (a waiter now fluent in Greek...hope?). By the time P arrives, I have recs on what to order, where to go IN Greece, how to say a few things and a new friend.
We started with some white wine that I cannot remember the name of, only that it came in a shorter bottle and was on the sweet side. Paired nicely with the rich dishes to come. Above you see Venus' famous moussaka. It's like a vegetable layered lasagna with bechamel sauce and cheese. There was a touch of cinnamon. Incredible. I'm still fantasizing about this. SHARE though cause it's decadent and even with us splitting, I still took half of that home. We also had some Greek fries in there...baked in olive oil and perfectly seasoned. Blew me away.
After all that goodness, I needed a coffee. P tells me that Greek coffee is a little different because when you drink it the Yia Yia's can tell you things about the shapes made by the grounds. We're not that good yet. We saw stripes and decided I had a tiger in my cup. May have been the wine talking but at least it wasn't a Grim:)We went with a classic dessert- yiaourti me meli (Greek yogurt with honey). This isn't Yoplait, peeps. It's the consistency of custard and I'm going to be recreating this one at home. Good for the digestive system and downright delicious. I love honey. (Well, yes, HoneyCAT too). I'm also going back to Venus and will take anyone...let me know if you're down!

Now for Angelo's. Angelo's I found flipping through a book my boss had lying around. Kind've a "universe" thing actually. I picked it up and flipped right to the page on Angelo's which was all about Greek Easter. Something I'd just been wondering about (bottom).

Saturday night we found Angelo's to be pretty charming. A dark wood bar and very cozy- perfect for a snowy Saturday night with Abby who lives in that hood. We walked in and they were playing Jack Johnson and throughout the night had on Joshua Radin, Dave Matthews, more Jack Johnson and the Postal Service. Very different vibe from Venus. And a mix in patrons as well. Lots of Old Town/ Lincoln Park twenty somethings but also older couples out with friends etc. While the menu prioritizes it's Greek offerings, it also lists items from Spain and Italy (clearly marked by flag). I had Avgolemono soup and a plate of grilled zucchini and squash with olive oil and herbs. This after a hearty helping of really really good tzatziki. It was never packed but always busy. With a glass of wine, I paid around $20 which is not too shabby in these parts. Not quite as authentic as Venus but a fabulous neighborhood find.
Which finally brings me to Greek Easter. I will be in England for Greek Easter, quite unintentionally. When I originally booked my trip, I didn't even know that my Greek friend would be over there let alone that the full day we've got together wold land on a major church holiday. Sadly I have my doubts that we'll make it to the night service because of his show but I'm trying to educate myself a bit. Anyone out there? Alexa, my new blog buddy, why do I think you may have something to offer here? What a serendipitous time for us to notice one another:)


~Angela~ said...

Appropriate that this was posted today.

Alexa said...

oh my gosh. i don't even know where to begin!!!!!!!!!!!

when i looked in my reader and saw the title of your post, i'm like well this is going to be good!

you are hilarious.

i mean greeks are the coolest people ever! and i am a pedigree greek 100%, which means i bleed olive oil and feta. ha.

i have realized over the course of my life that i have a lot of friends that are slightly obsessed about my greekness (my neighbor emily for sure).

i think it comes down to the fact that greeks tend to be loud, loving and fun and who doesn't like that? also the fact that there is a whole religion just for greeks, so greeks tend to know other greeks and travel in packs. ha

i am so jealous that you live so close to greektown, you are just going to have to become a greektown regular.

BTW i'm totally going to link to this post : )

shanti said...

greek yogurt is absolutely delish. i actually get mine from trader joe's.

L Sass said...

I love Greek food, too. I need to add dinner in Astoria to my "to do before I leave NYC" list!

Nilsa S. said...

You're making me HUNGRY, girlfriend. And it's not even remotely close to dinner!

ToKissTheCook said...

Angela: Ummm...GREAT find. I need to check that site more often, it's hilarious.

Alexa: I'm not even kidding. I have been planning this post for awhile now (month) but then I was reading your "About Me" and one of the first things is GREEK and it reminded me of every other fantastic Greek I know who want you to know that part first. I'm serious though...the guy speaks fluently. I need to learn a few tricks for Easter.

Shanti: I am obsessed. I love Fage already but this stuff was THICK. I'm also getting into the Greek-style Keifer. Yum.

Sass: You ARE going to be sharing your To-Do list items as they are checked off, si?

Nilsa: I'm making myself hungry. I may see you again tonight if you're working.

Joy @ Big Time Fancy said...

Oh, Greek Easter.
For one, it's my Name's Day - the direct translation of my name to Greek means "Resurrection of Life" - can't get much more Easter-y than that.

For two, the ONLY Greek my father knows are the two Greek Easter greetings - "Christos Anesti" (Christ has risen) and "Alithos Anesti" (Truly he has risen).

For three - Greek Holy Week has THE most gorgeous services in the world (in my very biased opinion). Good Friday is beautiful. The Saturday night Anastasie (sp?) service is....a wonder. And the Sunday morning Pascha service is pretty awesome. And for whatever reason, people think it's a good idea to give candles to small children, who invariably light SOMETHING on fire.