In El Greko!, Williamsville Has a Homey New Greek Option

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El Greko! A Bit of Greece
7170 Transit Rd, Williamsville, NY‎ 14221
Phone: 716.213.7715
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"Our server recommended the Chicken Souvlaki as 'really good.' She was right - like the beef, the chunks were tender, nicely spiced, and not dry or bland in any way."

Some restaurants are worth rooting for. Williamsville's now-defunct Bravo! Italian Bistro - not to be confused with Cheektowaga's Bravo! Cucina Italiana - wasn't one of them, as the food sickened one of us, and we didn't mind when it closed. Thankfully, it's just been replaced by the similarly enthusiastic-sounding El Greko! A Bit of Greece, a new and obviously family-owned place that's trying hard to attract attention despite the perpetual road construction in front of its Transit Road venue. When we visited, three people dressed in Greek clothing were dancing in the parking lot to intrigue potential customers, a cute and homey touch that appeared to be working. It may be very early in this Greek restaurant's life - the reason we aren't assigning a rating yet - but it's obvious that the proprietors are interested in sticking around for a while, and deserve to do so. Updated August 29, 2009: El Greko! appears to have closed permanently, initially putting up a sign blaming construction, and then disappearing altogether.

For now, the focus seems to be on the food, not the decor. El Greko looks like it hasn't quite gotten around to completely renovating or cleaning up Bravo's old venue, which persists in the dark-painted walls - now adorned with photos of Greece and a poster for the just-passed Hellenic Festival - but there's still seating for roughly 30 people, as well as a few outside tables with a view of the front parking lot and construction crews. The three-page menu is filled with options in small print, including a long list of appetizers, several salads, another long list of sandwiches, a page of entrees, then a half page of breakfast and dessert choices. There are American and local standards such as fish fry, hot dogs, and burgers, but the menu's otherwise substantially Greek. Breakfasts are served all day, the outer sign and menu both make clear, and the choices are literally all familiar, without any huge surprises. Budget-conscious diners, take note: virtually everything on the menu sells for less than $10, with most dishes in the $6-$7 range; sampler plates and full dinner entrees are only a little more expensive.

We picked a bunch of Greek classics to sample, starting with two appetizers: Dolmades grape leaves ($5.75) and a very reasonably priced plate of Spanakopita ($4.45). Both of us really liked the Dolmades, five plump little rice wraps with dark green grape leaves outside; they were all obviously fresh, their outsides taut and their insides soft, with some citrus flavor - slightly too little. They weren't quite up to Natalie's level, but they were good, and El Greko offers them either cold or warm to the patron's preference. By comparison, the Spanakopita - a Phyllo Dough-based spinach and feta cheese pie - was served warm and tasty, though more moist from top to bottom than we'd have expected given the normally crispy Phyllo. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the flavor, though, and we really liked the delicious, fresh feta that came on top. Ditto for the feta on the salads that came with our entrees, which were completely fresh and worth eating in their entirety.

One of our entrees was simple: a Beef Souvlaki ($7), served as a single plate with warm, just right pitas on one side atop a huge stack of Greek salad and grilled, marinated beef. There was so much salad on the plate that we initially didn't know if there was any meat to be found - it could and probably should have been piled on one side of the plate instead - but it turned out to be both reasonable in quantity and very well prepared, cooked just to the point before dryness, and with the typical lemon, olive oil and pepper flavors. For the price, it was a good plate.

The other entree was much more complex: El Greko's most expensive item by far, the Greek Combination Platter ($19), which offers portions of Souvlaki meat, Gyro meat, Moussaka, and Pastitsio, plus the pictured standalone Greek salad, some Greek potatoes, more warm pita bread, and supposedly more Dolmades, which for whatever reason didn't materialize. Though we don't want to trivialize that omission, a bona-fide fault, we actually didn't notice it at the time; we were otherwise impressed by all of the other food in the Platter, and really didn't need more to eat.

For this plate, we picked the Chicken Souvlaki, which our server recommended as being "really good." She was right - like the beef, the bite-sized chunks were tender, nicely spiced, and easy to eat, not dry or bland in any way. Five Greek Potatoes were buttery yet firm, without oozing oils or tasting squishy and overcooked, and a small stack of lamb Gyro meat was also quite good, as moist and fresh as all the other meats here. Nothing jumped out at us as amazing, but everything tasted good.

Ditto on the Moussaka, a thick block of baked, Bechamel-topped eggplant and ground beef, which tastes somewhat like eating a hot pie with an omelet on top of discrete layers of meat and vegetables. Each of the Moussaka's layers - the flour, butter, milk, and egg Bechamel, the slightly zesty, reddish-brown beef, and the soft eggplant - was independently good, and worked well together; by comparison, the similar-looking Pastitsio had the same Bechamel topping and some of its own ground beef, but was dominated by an oversized layer of plain macaroni inside. It was the only item we didn't feel like finishing on the platter.

We could easily have stopped eating right there, but something on the dessert menu had caught our attention earlier: Yiayia's Rock Candy Delite, a plate of Phyllo dough with powdered sugar, vanilla ice cream and caramel topping. Sadly, we never got to see how or whether rock candy actually made its way into the dish, as El Greko's kitchen only had two desserts available during our visit - the Baklava ($3) and the Rice Pudding ($2.55). We tried them instead, and could have passed on both; the Rice Pudding was served in a huge portion inside a chalice - great presentation - but the flavor was boring, not quite sweet enough or in any other way distinct. The Baklava was dripping with super-sweet honey, but tasted a little overcooked and considerably too hard; it may have been too recently made and in need of some time to settle.

That, we suspect, will change; the restaurant itself needs some time to settle into a groove, too. El Greko's so new that it's obvious that there are still things left to be done - the servers are friendly but still need to memorize the menus, more promptly clear plates, serve completely full beverage cups, and so on. Omissions are there to be found, but we get the sense they'll be fixed; only time will tell whether they are. For now, we'll say that we genuinely liked the location, the servers, and the food, and though we're holding off on a rating, rest assured we'll be back for a final evaluation when El Greko's had a proper chance to work out the kinks.

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