For the average person living in America, “Greek food” conjures up images of food trucks or greasy diners that serve heavy, over-salted dishes. That impression is not unfounded: Sadly, many self-proclaimed “Greek restaurants” on the East Coast adhere to this stereotype.
Kalimera does not. Located near the end of Temple Street, across from the Criterion movie theater and discreetly tucked away between Pho Ketkeo and what is now Chengdu Foodtrail, this modest little restaurant is hard to find if you’re not looking for it.
As soon as you enter Kalimera, you are transported across the Atlantic Ocean into the recluse of a “taverna” — a typical Greek restaurant that one would encounter on any Greek city or island. The bright white walls, chairs, tables and bar blend smoothly with the blue overtones strategically dispersed across the room. Soft lighting and Greek music greet you as soon as you enter the door, along with a beautiful wall painting of a huge olive tree, one of the most traditional symbols of Greek culture.
The menu covers a broad array of Greek cuisine but insists on maintaining the authenticity that Vangelis, the chef, is so proud of bringing to his food. Do not make the mistake of asking for ketchup or hot sauce here — all that request will get you is a soft chuckle and a polite comment about how this isn’t a diner.
“All the ingredients used are fresh,” Vangelis highlights. “We don’t use any culinary granules, bases or chemicals, and we import a lot of our products from Greece. If a product arrives to my restaurant and the quality is not good I prefer to not serve it and tell the customer we’ve run out than to present something sub-par.”
The restaurant’s ambiance is also colored by Greek culture toward food. Unlike most restaurants in the U.S. where waiters will stop by the table multiple times over the course of the meal to ask how everything is going, at Kalimera, the waiters are reluctant to interrupt conversations and will politely stay away unless called upon, as is customary in Greek culinary establishments. The restaurant creates an atmosphere where guests are inspired to stay for long, drawn out meals, the way Greek dinners tend to be, another thing that the staff take great pride in promoting.
The meal commences with a basket of warm pita bread, best accompanied by one of the restaurant’s delicious spreads. One of the most savory ones is “xtipiti,” a spicy feta spread that is properly spicy the way any Greek person will tell you it should be, and “scordalia,” a delicious potato and garlic spread that accompanies perfectly the crispy, fried zucchini found on the menu as “kolokithakia.” Like much else at Kalimera, fried here does not mean deep-fried and bathed in oil — while many of the dishes are fried, none of them are really heavy. Another great gem in the appetizers section is “kolokithokeftedes,” a savory vegetarian type of meatball with mint and dill that is accompanied by the famous tzatziki spread.
The main dishes are equally delicious, be they meat, seafood or traditional entrees. Among the meat dishes, the most outstanding is the gyro, pork meat that is thinly sliced in the restaurant’s signature style and served in a sandwich or on a platter. Among the seafood, the fish of the day — neither under nor overcooked — is served with lemon and olive oil while the grilled octopus is also an eccentric but exceptionally good dish.
My personal favorite is Kalimera’s homemade “mousaka,” a traditional Greek delicacy containing an eggplant and potato base, layered with ground beef and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. The vegetarian options do not fall far behind with both the imam and briam constituting two of the restaurant’s most delicious dishes.
However, any Greek person who has visited Kalimera will tell you that the restaurant’s highlight is their dessert menu. Their homemade “galaktoboureko” made up of fluffy phyllo stuffed with a creamy milk filling and topped off with a touch of syrup is among the most authentic of Greek desserts. It tastes like it came straight out of a grandmother’s kitchen and is guaranteed to make you keep coming back for more.
Vangelis takes great pride in the food that he serves.
“We’re trying to introduce cooking the way it used to be in America 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. “I want people to come here and have the experience delete everything they know about Greek cuisine — unless they’ve been to Greece.”
Overall, if you feel like getting a taste of Greece this weekend but can’t afford the long flight, Kalimera is a close second.
Sophia Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org