My big fat favorite Greek food

Pasticcio at The Fat Greek
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Perhaps no ethnic food in America has been more denuded of its character than Greek. Every Greek restaurant has a menu so similar to every other Greek restaurant; you would swear the menus were printed en masse. Even worse is the cooking — so standardized it all tastes as if it came from a single, communal kitchen.

Being of Greek-American lineage, I have a theory about this sorry state of affairs: Greek food is so relentlessly generic because most of the people cooking it (and those who brought it to America in the first place) aren't chefs. Like my relatives, thousands of Greeks came to America in the 20th century looking for opportunity, and found it by running lunch counters and small restaurants. The food and recipes never progressed beyond a dozen or so staples, and stagnation quickly set in.

But slowly, over the past 20 years, Greek food has started to regain the respect it deserves — thanks mainly to some young chefs in larger cities, like Michael Symon in Cleveland and Michael Psilakis in New York. They have worked hard to raise this cuisine above these clichés. In Las Vegas, nothing so extraordinary is going on, but at least we have the Fat Greek to show us what real Greek food is supposed to taste like.


Restaurant Guide

Fat Greek
4001 S. Decatur Blvd., 222-0666. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Suggested dishes: tirokefteri dip, $5.25; avgolemono soup, $3.50 cup, $4.95 bowl; Village Greek salad, $7.95; moussaka, $12.95.
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In terms of innovation, the food at the Fat Greek is hardly groundbreaking. But its versions of many Greek staples are done to a turn, by professionals who know how to dress up a plate and season it to a fare-thee-well. It is, by far, the best Greek restaurant in town, mainly because of these dedicated chefs in the kitchen.

Those chefs are the Gourmroians (father Yanni and son Jerry) and Nikolas Georgousis — the latter from Athens, Greece — who put their stamp of authenticity on everything from pasticcio to moussaka to an amazing but simple dish called macaronia me Kyma, which might be the richest mac and cheese in town.

Before you get to those, however, you'll need to navigate an appetizer menu rich in discoveries. Few Greek restaurants take the time to make taramasalata (the red cod- or carp-roe dip) as good as the version here. Unlike the mass-produced product, this isn't bright pink with food coloring; it's brightly flavored with lemon and olive oil, and just enough caviar-like pungency to make things interesting. As good as that is, another dip — the spicy feta-cheese whipped tirokefteri — enthralls me most. Nicely presented with a ton of warm pita bread, this is authentic Greek meze at its best.

Most Greek places also don't hand-make the flakey, cheese-stuffed tiropitas or spinach-stuffed spanokopita. Here the phyllo flakes away, revealing fillings that are fresh and brightly seasoned. Next to picking out the cheek meat from a roasted lamb's head, nothing will make you feel like a Peloponnesian faster than plowing through a platter of these starters.

The Fat Greek's soups don't miss a beat, either. The avgolemeno is a rich chicken broth that looks simple enough as it arrives, then surprises with just the right amount of shredded chicken and rice in the bottom of the bowl. It is neither too heavy nor too light on the lemon, and a version my yia yia (grandmother) would approve of.

Greek Burger

They do a nice tabouli salad here, but the Village Greek salad (chopped tomatoes, cukes, onions and feta) is the one to get. Once you move to the mains, the aforementioned pasticcio and moussaka are the apotheosis of Greek casserole cookery. Each is layered macaroni studded with meat, then eggplant (in the case of moussaka) or a sinfully rich meat sauce (the pasticcio), and topped with a thick layer of savory béchamel custard. The orders run $12-$13 and one is enough for two people.

"Too much is not enough" usually defines the portion sizes in most Greek homes, and the Fat Greek follows true to form with a family-style grill plate for four (a steal at $50) featuring nicely spiced beef and lamb kebobs, lule (ground meat) kebobs and enough roast chicken to feed six.

Save room for dessert, though, because Yanni Gourmroian is a baker by trade, and his Greek and Armenian pastries put all others in town to shame. I'm crazy for his galataboureko (almost-savory semolina custard underneath a sweet, soggy roof of phyllo), and shamali (Cypriot honey-soaked cake), but one bite of his butgatcha (vanilla custard-filled, cream puff-like cake), and you'll forget about bad baklava forever.


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