Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, January 9, 2003
Ionian Grill
Athenian Combo (dinner) $16.95
Gyros platter (lunch) $6.95
My Big Fat Greek Dinner

The homey atmosphereat Ionian Grill is great for chilling and pigging out.


Ionian Grill

3522 Bluebonnet Circle, FW. 817-923-5582. Mon-Fri 11am-10pm, Sat Noon-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.

s a foodie, I love Greek cuisine and neighborhood restaurants like this. As a critic, I want to love restaurants like this. As a critic for an alternative weekly, I need to love restaurants like Ionian Grill.

Alternative publications typically shun supporting chain restaurants and champion the underdog, the independent. On our own time, we alt-weekly folk tend to celebrate food at places that donít sport corporate logos on their front doors or hand you beepers when you walk in. Ionian Grill is perfectly low-tech, inexpensive, and unpolished. Very alternative.

As a critic, I wish the cook used less salt. The flavors of Greek food ó lemon, olive oil, onion, and garlic ó are so robust that salt is superfluous. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the food and recommend a visit, I have some reservations.

As a fan of consuming meals that I neither cook nor clean up after, I can see visiting Ionian Grill when I donít feel like cooking. Itís a neighborhood restaurant good enough to make me want to change neighborhoods.

Aside from olives, the one Greek food most recognized by Americans has to be the gyro, the Greek meat-in-bread answer to the hot dog, hamburger, or cheesesteak. Ionian Grill makes a killer gyro. Yeah, yeah, so the pressed lamb used in Ionianís delight comes from a manufacturer in Chicago. But the other key ingredient, tzatziki, is prepared on site. Itís creamy, the perfect blend of sour cream, cucumber, and olive oil. And the dreamy, soft pita bread is up to the task of keeping the meat tightly packed so you can dip the gyro into your tzatziki without worrying about losing your grip.

Itís not surprising that Ionian Grill (named after the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece) puts out excellent grilled meats. Itís in the name.

All the items on the Athenian combo of lamb chops, broiled shrimp, and souvlaki (named for a souvlas or spit) were cooked perfectly. Itís a pity that the chops, tender and brightly flavored with lemon and garlic, were about the same size as the jumbo shrimp. The dish came with lemony au gratin potatoes and green beans, and the mix proved filling despite the teensy-weensy chops.

The soups my guest and I tried were both excellent. The soup of the day on my first visit was lentil. The lentils were firm, and the soup base, a beefy stock, was flavored with oregano. Although the lentil soup was excellent, the avgolemono made us flip. Itís a traditional soup made from chicken stock, egg yolks, and lemon, ladled over a scoop of rice. Hearty and scrumptious.

While I consumed the gyro like a death-row inmate addressing her final meal, my companion dug into the Ionian trio of casseroles: moussaka, pastitsio, and spinach pie. I would recommend the spinach pie. It was light and springy with a firm layer of blended spinach, breadcrumbs, and egg layered between sheets of phyllo.

The other two items, moussaka (ground beef and eggplant) and pastitsio (pasta and ground beef with a cream sauce) reminded me of Hamburger Helper-style one-dish meals. The flavor that elevated the moussaka to a level unknown to boxed dinners was the nutmeg-infused bťchamel sauce that topped the layers of ground beef and mushy eggplant.

The pastitsio reminded me of the casseroles my mum used to make when my father was between jobs. These dishes had names like ďtuna surpriseĒ and ďfrankfurter crown casserole.Ē They were cheap, filling, and made maximum use of inexpensive ingredients like ground beef, noodles, Campbellís soup, and ketchup. I shouldnít lump the pastitsio in such dubious company, but it did evoke some not-so-wonderful childhood memories of those dreaded unemployment casseroles.

The restaurant has a nice selection of cheap wine ó not a single bottle costs more than $32 (Georges Deboeuf Pouilly Fuissť). With more than half the wines available by the glass and a small selection of Greek red and white wines, itís a good place to try something new.

The Ionian, in travel terminology, is not a destination restaurant. Trying to impress a first date? Go to Pegasus. Save the Ionian for those significant others who already know both your good qualities and your flaws and love you anyway ó like they will the Grill.

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