As a general rule, I often suggest eating at an ethnic restaurant when it first opens. If you don't go then, you may never have the opportunity to taste the food the owner wants you to have.
When an ethnic restaurateur first opens the doors, the menu bursts with perfectly rendered dishes from a specific place in the world. These dishes are what fellow expats desire, even long for. If the majority of the customers of the restaurant are countrymen, then the recipes will maintain their authenticity. But if the majority of the customers are people who have assumptions about that particular cuisine, the owner will be forced to change his recipes to appease his customers and keep his business solvent.
Hence, Chinese restaurants serve lo mein and General Tso chicken, sushi bars add cream cheese and avocados to their rolls, and Thai restaurants hand out fortune cookies. These are all examples of Americanized ethnic dishes. Not that these taste bad; rather, it's the loss of a distinct flavor profile and an outpost of a cuisine.
When Greco Fresh Grille opened in early June, I stopped by. I had to. Greek foods — especially Greek street foods — tend to be evocative, and a gyro is a truly Proustian dish conjuring up hurried meals along busy streets during a hot summer. Gyros and spanakopita are the fast food of Greece. Most small shops specialize in one or the other, usually not both. Greco, though, has both.
I ordered and quickly consumed a pork gyro. The meat was marinated, grilled, tender, flavorful and had Athenian-styled tzatziki sauce.
Greco is a small 30-seat spot with counter service only. A few pictures dot the walls, and the grill stretches along the left wall. The tables in the well-lit space are set a little close together (the room is small and often filled with squirmy children). The interior is slightly drab, but there's nothing drab about the home-style recipes. Owners Vasilios (some call him Bill) and Irene Pahountis moved to Charlotte after selling a large diner in central Jersey last year. He liked the ambiance here: the clean streets, slower pace, and the European-styled fresco dining available everywhere. The Pahountis family is from Karpathos, a gorgeous island located between Rhodes and Crete.
When Pahountis first opened Greco, the pork gyros were on the menu. When I revisited a few weeks later, the authentic pork gyro was gone and in its place was the sliced processed meat from a beef/lamb cone — invented in America, by the way — and what many Americans think a gyro is. The counter clerk told me they changed because the customers wanted "that" gyro.
Oh, well. At least there's still a chicken gyro, marinated and grilled in authentic Greek style.
Pouting after being denied a pork gyro, I settled on a grilled lamb burger propped up on a wedge of pita. Better are the compulsively delicious, delicate phyllo-encased packets of spanakopita made by Irene and the hand-cut fries with lemon and oregano.
Greco's menu is limited, with only a few salads, sandwiches, and chicken and ground beef kabobs. Vasilios plans to offer more specials and says that moussaka will be among the first. But do not skimp on dessert. Although simple baklava and baklava sundaes are on the menu, on some days Irene makes a glorious galaktoboureko, a custard dessert both sweet and soothing.
Greco Fresh Grille