Greek and Middle Eastern food are among some of my favorite cuisines, so I’m always looking to try new places offering this fresh and healthier style of cooking. Here are two newcomers and one that I recently discovered.
After eight years of running a Middle Eastern restaurant in West Broward, Mohammad Natour decided it was time to open his own place, Al Natour. Natour has brought all his former staff from Al-Salam in Plantation to open Al Natour, just across the street on University Drive. The menus are strikingly similar, but Al Natour is a more inviting place. The restaurant has lots of large tables to accommodate families and large groups. Open about a month, Natour is slowly getting his old customers back and finding new ones. Prices are reasonable and portions are large. Plan to share plates or count on leftovers.For large groups, there are huge family platters.
We created our own sampler plate with hummus, spanakopita and falafel. Our favorite was the perfectly crispy falafel, with just the right mix of ground chickpeas, parsley and garlic. The hummus is made with tahini, which gives it a different flavor. Spanakopita was the only disappointment. The table also gets complimentary packages of pita bread, plates of olives and pickled vegetables, as well as a simple green salad for sharing.
Most of the entrées focus on grilled meats and kebabs. What makes the dishes stand out are the marinades and spices. Our favorite is the chicken kebab, which tastes like it’s marinated in tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and other spices. Meat Schwarma has a citrusy marinade andshish kabob brings chunks of lamb, (the least flavorful of our selections and overly chewy). Desserts are small portions of Middle Eastern pastries, just enough for about two bites. While we tried a few, we didn’t find any we would seek out again. Even still, we definitely plan to return.
A trip to Pompano Beach's Christina’s Greek Taverna is almost like visiting a friend’s home for dinner. Family is the focus here, with the friendly Christina working the front of the house and her husband in the kitchen. The small restaurant is cozy and comfortable with an attractive photo mural of the Aegean Sea. While Greek food is the star here, there’s also a selection of Italian favorites. While you’re looking at the menu, enjoy some hot pita bread with olive oil for dipping.
Christina recommends a “best ever” appetizer of fried calamari, so we can’t resist the challenge. The calamari is fresh, not frozen, flash fried with a very light breading. It’s cooked perfectly, not overdone and chewy. There is a wide selection of hot and cold appetizers, plus traditional favorites of kebabs, lamb chops, stuffed peppers, moussaka, pasticcio and more. Italian selections include chicken parmigiana, chicken marsala and pastas. Christina’s prices are a couple dollars higher than some comparable places and her portions tend toward the smaller size. But she does offer specials, which help offset the cost.
Christina’s signature shrimp are sautéed in a tomato sauce with a light touch of cream and champagne, which goes nicely over rice. You will also want extra bread to soak up the sauce and we would have liked more than six small shrimp. The lamb shank was tender and had just enough olive oil and light seasoning to accent the meat. Sides of orzo with tomatoes and string beans with tomatoes and garlic complemented the meal. Finish the meal on a sweet note with homemade baklava, a mix of sweet and savory flavors with cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and honey.
For consumers looking for fast, fresh, affordable food in a casual setting, Lambros Kokkinelis thinks he has the answer - Gyroville. The fast casual Greek chain has three locations in Broward and one in Boca Raton, with expansion into Miami-Dade County in the works. We visited the newest location on 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale. Diners can choose from Greek sandwiches or platters, which includes salad, rice or fries, pita and sauce. Or design your own meal by selecting a choice of protein and a presentation including pita, bowl, wrap, salad or spinach salad. Nothing on the menu is more than $11 and the average price is about $7 or $8.
We were impressed with the quality and the size of the portions. Most meals are built around either gyro meat sliced off the rotisserie and grilled chicken or pork souvlakia grilled to order. There are also plenty of vegetarian options and a grilled mahi mahi. Sides like falafel, grape leaves, hummus and spicy feta are great for an extra nosh.
The chicken soulvlaki is flavored with rosemary, lemon and oregano; just watch to make sure they don’t pull them off the grill too quickly. Gyro meat is flavorful and thinly sliced, although next time we might ask if they would grill it for a few minutes more to crisp up the edges. Traditional tzatziki sauce gets a twist with additions like roasted red pepper, jalapeno spinach and carmelized onion and pineapple. We’re hoping Gyroville’s expansion plans continue.