Instantly, I answered: "Greek."
He was surprised. Most people, he'd found, answered, "Italian" or "Chinese."
I don't remember when I first fell in love with Greek food. I remember gyros sandwiches in high school, but those don't quite count. I mean, I love 'em when they're made well but they don't define Greek cuisine.
But I went to college at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which is just south of the Eisenhower Expressway. Just north of the Eisenhower Expressway lies Greektown. The dorms in which I lived are at the northerneastern edge of the campus, at Harrison and Halsted. A quick jaunt across the expressway overpass led to Giordano's, but just across the street, just a few steps further, was Courtyards of Plaka. Oh my.
The latest issue of Saveur features a succulent photo of roasted lamb on the cover. Oh, lamb. And inside, near the back cover, this morning I spied an ad for Greek Island Cooking. And "whoosh!" went my brain, back to Plaka, back to the shrimp and cucumber and feta salad, a staple of my college days.
And then "whoosh!" went my brain to Papagus, also gone, a Lettuce Entertain You venture, but so well done. I went there often. So often that I saw items from the menu come and go. Once, when I mentioned a missing dish to our server, a manager popped by the table to let me know that they'd be happy to make the dish for me if I called the day before to let them know I'd be in so they could be sure to have the ingredients on hand. So lovely. So hospitable. So Greek.
I love taramasalata and Greek bread and Roditis. I could happily make a meal out of just that. And I hope to, someday, in Greece. I want to get off the beaten path, head to some lesser-traveled island, find a charming taverna, and spend a day with a plateful of taramasalata, a hunk of bread, and wine served in one of those charming copper jugs.
But Papagus also had a delightful roasted beet salad with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And roasted chicken with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon and oregano. And Greek salad with olive oil and lemon and oregano.
And a chocolate fig custard that nearly made me weep it was so good. Friends always thought I was a bit daft for ordering anything called chocolate fig custard. And then they tried it. And they were hooked. Just like every other person who ever had it. It was insane.
Alas, I am not in Greece. There are still stubborn piles of snow lying around and the temperature has not yet moved above freezing for the day.
But I have
Here is a picture of one of the pages. I mean, seriously.
I must start saving my pennies for a Trip to Greece fund.