Lots--maybe the majority--of people are convinced that restaurant reviewers live in the advertisers' pocket. Many times I've been assured by "people who know" (but don't know what I do for a living) that all restaurant reviews are paid for by restaurant advertising, that no review is an unvarnished, honest opinion, free from filthy lucre's influence.
The truth is, I don't know any reviewers who pay any attention whatsoever to advertising. I never even see any of the advertising staff at this paper, and since I maintain my office elsewhere, most of them haven't seen me either. I choose the places I want to review completely on my own, but advertising reps do send me menus and press releases for consideration.
And I guess they read my reviews. Because one menu I received recently had me pegged: the hummous tahini, the baba ghannous, and the tzatziki were circled in black ink. Oh, those golden apples.
I do have a weakness for Middle Eastern food, but I didn't go check out Vincent's only because of those Mediterranean influences. I grew up in Dallas, and I remember when Vincent's Seafood was the number one fish house in town. Basil Stergios was part owner and chef at Vincent's then, and he owns the current Vincent's, too, a family-owned and operated (that's where the "Home Cooking" comes in) place out on Walnut Hill. So memory fueled the visit as much as preference.
We went for lunch, and you should too. But don't go looking for good looks, or design, because there isn't any. I have seen fewer less prepossessing places than Vincent's. That's OK--the welcome is warm--everyone who waited on us seemed to be related, and you just want to concentrate on your plate, anyway.
Stergios hasn't lost his touch with seafood; fish is still a good bet. We ordered, off the menu, a salmon steak cooked surprisingly lightly and barely sauced with butter and dill. And we tried the talami, a Greek-style pizzette, soft pita covered with oil and cheese, before the fish. But most of the food we ate came from the generous buffet--an incredible deal for $5.95 per person at lunch. A line of big cafeteria pans is filled and refilled with meat, vegetables, and salads right up to 2 p.m.--I know, because we ate late and for a long time.
We filled our plates with Greek meatballs, really more like patties, soft and brown, flavored with plenty of garlic and onion in a brown sauce soaked up by the rice; cole slaw was not much more than cabbage and garlic (do you need anything more?), and the potato salad relied just as heavily on the pungent lily.
The oddly named "Mediranian" (A misspelling or a portmanteau word? You decide) salad was a twist on the Greek: a huge plate of crisp romaine leaves, purple olives, and cucumbers. Roast leg of lamb was Greek-style, too, the tender slices brown and garlicky (whereas French-style lamb tends to be rosy and garlicky); the roasted chicken meat was falling off the bone, and the mashed potatoes tasted amazingly like potato--which is the highest compliment you can pay in the era of instant. And all the dips--my original temptations--were as good as I could have wished.
But it was the souflaki that really won me: a two-handed sandwich of grilled marinated chicken in a soft round of pita topped with lettuce and tomatoes and mouth-puckering tzatziki yogurt sauce. This beats a burger any day, and was a meal deal for $4.95.
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Home Cooking--can you believe I never got around to the chicken-fried steak? Maybe next time.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Vincent's Home Cooking, 2574 Walnut Hill Lane, 351-1860. Open for lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and for dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; open Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Vincent's Home Cooking:
Lunch buffet $5.95
Dinner buffet $7.95