Greenpoint is now home to North Brooklyn’s best authentic Greek restaurant. Situated on the charming corner of Franklin and Huron, Mr. Souvlaki—which takes it name from an establishment the owners’ parents operated in Brooklyn Heights years ago—takes a no-frills approach to Greek food. “I think when people try to make Greek food trendy or high-end, it’s not really authentic” Stavros says, “When I think of Greek food it’s mezethes.”
Mezethes are the Hellenic equivalent of tapas, though generally served in slightly larger portions than their Iberian counterparts. Mr. Souvlaki’s wide-ranging meze offerings mimic Taverna-Style dining in Greece. This typically entails (over)ordering shared plates to be eaten family style. Mezethes at Mr. Souvlaki include a sweet and savory feta saganaki, a variation on a dish that always features some type of fried cheese. Smothered in sesame and drizzled with honey and balsamic, it’s an indulgent choice. House-made dips, such as tarama, featuring fish roe, are also a hit. Kolokokeftethes, essentially pancakes made from shredded zucchini, are served atop fresh, garlicky tzatziki and round out a spread one stumbles across frequently if dining in Greece.
But there’s more to the menu than mezethes, such as Stavros’ favorite dish, the kokkinsito. Prepared only as a special, “it’s more of a childhood memory for me, and I love it,” he explains, “I could eat that every day, it’s Greek soul food.” Kokkinisto refers to the redness from tomatoes used to season the dish, which typically features meat, potatoes, and other vegetables. Full disclosure: I ate this approximately once a week while growing up and so it conjures up equally heartening memories.
And in a sense, Greek food embodies key elements of what one might consider soul food. Recipes are 100 percent rooted in what the people were able to grow and/or rear. There’s a lot of “meat and potatoes,” but these basic ingredients are supported by the fresh ingredients and cooked with immense amounts of love. Even now as they’re under economic pressure, Greeks will aggressively try to feed you as a gesture of “filoxenia,” which translates to showing love for strangers. And if you’ve been to Astoria, you’re aware that Greek restaurants notoriously serve large portions, which Mr. Souvlaki does, to an extent. The cuisine extends far beyond meat and potatoes, and many items require exhaustive prep time, like moussaka. Another Mr. Souvlaki hit, gemista, requires extensive prep time. Gemista means “stuffed” (for all the Greek language’s poetic qualities, Greeks don’t have the most nuanced naming system for their dishes), and Mr. Souvlaki serves its gemista as tomatoes stuffed with rice, raisins, fresh herbs, and pine nuts. Mouth watering potatoes round out a dish that suggests there might be some mythical grandmother hiding in the back.
A highlight on the menu is the dakos salad. A dish that originates on the island of Crete, dakos is chopped tomatoes, feta, and olives served atop barley rusks (think biscotti) imported directly from Crete, topped with flavorful, high-quality olive oil. Olive oil softens the rusks in this bruschetta-like dish.
The restaurant satisfies a much-needed niche in a neighborhood with no other authentic Greek food. A small, cozy, and unassuming space, the owners kept things humble with subtle homages to their parents’ place, like the choice to use the old Mr. Souvlaki’s salad bowls. “It may not sound like much but to us it’s symbolic. Same for the salad dressing,” Stavros adds. When pressed, he wouldn’t give details on the recipe. “The point is that we’re carrying on the tradition.”
208 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
All photos by Josh Cohen