The Greeks and the Jews have a lot in common, perhaps even shared bloodlines if you accept the theories espoused on The History Channel. The food of the two cultures admittedly is dissimilar, yet when you consider dietary laws and access to ingredients, I feel the disparity is negligible, anthropologically speaking.
Greek food, like the Jewish food of my childhood, is passionate, unapologetic, and intense. The Greeks prefer their flavors to be bold, and to work together by balancing out varying extremes. A Greek dish is like a fascinating food argument with no losers…and no one can appreciate that like a Jew. Despite our petty culinary differences, we both like our garlic heavy, and our meat on the gamey side.
I don’t know if it was a help or a hindrance that I took a Greek foodie with me to Christos, but I knew I’d enjoy the ride.
Christos presents food from Cyprus, the land of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. It was the first Greek food I ever had when I moved to the Twin Cities, and I knew from the first bite that I was in love.
My dining partner and I started out simply, with a plate of Hummus ($6.35). Cypriot hummus differs from that of continental Greece because of a heavier Arabic influence, which favors the addition of sesame paste for a darker taste and a more textured spread.
A glass of full-bodied Aphrodite ($7/$28) or the crisper, tropical Santorini ($7/$28) was heaven with both the hummus and the jaw-dropping Calamari ($7.95). If you have it in your heart to appreciate fully this mollusk, try it here. The pale, fleshy pieces are large, sensual, and delicately curved—reminiscent, if I may say so, of Aphrodite herself, who is said to have emerged naked from the white foam of the sea at Cyprus.
This divine dish was a difficult act to follow. However, the Saganaki ($8.95)—kasseri cheese flaming tableside, then cooled with a splash of lemon—definitely held its own. “One can’t go wrong with a big plate of melted cheese” isn’t an old adage, but it should be. If this expression ever makes it into the lexicon of popular phrases, I intend to share partial credit with Christos for its usage.
My Greek friend started out the evening with every intention of remaining loyal to his mother’s traditional cooking, and rightly so. It took something a little more intricate to win his admiration—like the Spanikopita appetizer ($6.35). Spinach, feta, dill, and scallions are wrapped in delicate, buttery phyllo pastry, then baked into a tidy little pocket. The result is fresh yet comforting, a middle ground of healthy and decadent, naughty and nice. Even the Greek had to concede the point.
Christos features three fresh soups daily. We tried a bit of Avgolemono, a traditional egg-lemon soup ($2.75/$5.35). If you haven’t had this soup, and couldn’t imagine such a broth, it’s partially what inspired my introduction. The traditional recipe varies—some Greeks make more of a stew, using the egg-lemon broth like hollandaise over chicken or lamb. This version was definitely toward the brothy side, with a bit of rice at the bottom for substance.
Much to my amusement, our kind and exceedingly patient server kept trying to “correct” my friend’s pronunciation of his childhood dish. For the record, and for the ease of those ordering, the cumbersomely-named dish is pronounced “ahv-ghoh-leh-moh-no”—with the stress falling precisely in the same spot as one places it when referring to Big Bird’s imaginary, and probably Greek, friend, Snuffleupagus.
Both Greek and Jew were thrilled to merit the Rack of Lamb special ($26.95) for our entrée, which consisted of eight beautiful, tender, medium-rare lamb lollypops. The flavor gets stronger when you approach the bone, and I could not resist giving at least one a good gnaw. With our lamb, we sipped Othello ($7/$28), which is a dry yet fruity red, hailing from Cyprus.
Following our entrée was a light Greek Salad ($5.95/$9.95) of capers, feta, romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives. Those refreshing bites easily could have served as my dessert, but in the interest of being thorough, we tried Milopita ($3.95), an apple, ricotta, and cream cheese pastry. Greek desserts can be very sweet, but a mug of strong coffee can help make it more palatable for those born without a functioning sweet tooth.
Christos has three locations: South Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue (“Eat Street”); Downtown St. Paul in Union Depot; and Minnetonka. However, I always have been a fan of the Minneapolis one. It’s unpretentious and very family-friendly, yet strangely relaxing and at night—dare I say?—romantic.
My evening at Christos was bittersweet—my date was departing for an exciting work opportunity out of the country, and neither of us knows how long he’ll be gone. However, I didn’t feel too terribly embarrassed about my misty eyes. It’s a Greek restaurant, after all. So, I couldn’t have been the first to become emotional at a table, and then proceed to wolf down meat.
2632 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.
214 E. 4th St., St. Paul
15600 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka