By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
This is exactly how my first visit to Tasty Greek felt--as though I were sticking my hand in a Sheetrock orifice in search of treasure without the benefit of heavy gloves or adequate health insurance. The spinach-dip shade of filmy linoleum tiles on the floor looked as if they had been impregnated with decades of dust. The rough-hewn wood wall paneling accented with mirrors resembled a stab at the cowboy-discotheque school of interior design. Confusing this artistic vein a bit were rows of framed, faded posters and photos of Mediterranean scenes.
Sloppily wiped table coverings hold red, tulip-shaped bowl candles with tattered white plastic mesh on the outside, square dishes with ketchup packets, and bud vases with plastic flowers. As for the bathroom, let me just say there are couple of gas stations nearby.
At the back of the restaurant is a counter area where customers place and pay for orders during lunch. A chaotic table-service of sorts seems to rule the evening.
Tasty Greek is operated by longtime Dallas restaurateur Khalil Amr, who in the '70s and '80s operated several restaurants in the metroplex including Khalil's in Highland Park Village, Khalil's Beirut in Addison, and La Deli by Khalil in Las Colinas. He quit the restaurant business in 1986 following an illness and started up again in 1994 after taking over Tasty Greek in Carrollton.
A native of Lebanon and a Southern Methodist University engineering graduate, Khalil says he gathered his culinary knowledge living abroad in France, Greece, and England as a project engineer for Kimberly Clark. While he doesn't appear to have learned much about housekeeping, he certainly seems to have picked up some flavor tricks.
Khalil's lentil soup--with a clean, rich taste; tender, firm lentils; and seasonings of lemon, garlic, onions, cumin, coriander, salt, and white pepper--is among the best you'll find in Dallas. He says the cumin is added not so much for flavoring, but for flatus absorption. "You have to be a doctor to be a cook," he asserts.
The house salad, however, was a big disappointment, loaded with fresh, crisp lettuce plus two faded, waxy tomato wedges, crumbled feta, and a single kalamata. The watery dressing was desperately weak in flavor.
But the entrees quickly blotted out any short-term disappointments. The Khalil's special plate, a Lebanese-Greek assortment of shish kabob, kafta, and gyros, represented the best versions of these items ever tasted in Dallas. Especially delicious was the kafta--a simple creation of ground beef rolled with parsley, onions, and seasonings--which was supple, firm, juicy, and loaded with rich meat flavor. A row of rich, succulent tenderloin cubes, the kabob was equally compelling, and the gyros, slices of lean beef and lamb, were well seasoned and void of the grease and gristle that so often afflict this preparation. A lively cucumber yogurt sauce and warm, tender slices of moist pita completed the plate.
Chicken souvlaki, chicken breast in a spiced marinade that's char-grilled, was slightly dry and a bit over-seasoned, muddling the mild chicken flavor. But a side of stewed cubed yellow squash and zucchini with tomato, onion, and garlic, had a mild spiciness and a delicate nuttiness that blended richly.
One of Khalil's own creations, orange roughy fish in pita, should be a classic. This sandwich was loaded with moist, flaky fish flush with a clean nuttiness lent from a dribbling of tahini sauce made from ground sesame. Accented with lettuce, the whole thing was wrapped in a fluffy, soft pita.
The moussaka plate plunged into mediocrity, however. This mixture of eggplant, ground lamb, onions, tomato, and mushrooms topped with a dry, gummy tomato sauce, was overcooked and served in a puddle of oil, creating a melange of unappealingly viscous textures and mumbling flavors.
A bowl of lemon rice soup was also a disappointment. With a thick, creamy consistency, the soup had patches of hardening film on the top and an overbearing use of salt and pepper.
Several items on Tasty Greek's menu are standouts. But it's a shame Khalil isn't as fastidious about his dining room as he appears to be with his food. There is no excuse for grimy bathrooms, unswept floors, or tables that aren't thoroughly wiped after each guest. It hasn't reached the level of offensiveness, but it certainly is disconcerting. Even the perception of grime in a restaurant can have a devastating impact on the dining experience. Which is why this venue is a genuine hole-in-the-wall adventure, one that might be best explored "to go."
If you're going to run a decent hole-in-the-wall, you might as well make it a family of perforations. La Deli, a new Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in Lewisville, is owned and operated by Khalil Amr's daughter Fadin and her chef husband, Walid Amro, who grew up in the restaurant business in Lebanon.