My friends of Greek heritage took seriously my invitation to evaluate the Greek food at Alekos2Go, a recently opened drive-through on Northern Avenue in Hagerstown. The three women were waiting for me on a bench outside the walk-up window.
The air was hot and still. A storm was coming.
We huddled outside the walk-up window protected by a blue-and-white awning. We discussed who would order which Greek items on the menu. There were many other choices: bistro-style sandwiches, triple-decker club sandwiches, fresh salads, subs, breakfast sandwiches and a kids’ menu.
But we concentrated on the Greek offerings. I chose the spanakopita, a spinach and cheese pie ($3.95). My friend chose tiropita, a cheese pie ($3.95). Her older daughter chose the souvlaki platter ($8.95) and her younger daughter chose the chicken gyro wrap ($4.95). On an earlier visit I had tasted the traditional gyro, and it was delicious.
The food was handed to us in a white paper bag containing napkins and cutlery. We were hungry and the storm was threatening. We hurried to the middle picnic table with a blue awning. Within minutes, all eating boundaries were erased and we shared all the dishes.
We cried with joy as we tasted the items on the souvlaki platter. Sizable chunks of chicken kabobs had been marinated and then grilled on a skewer. The french fries were the best I have ever tasted. The menu said they were hand cut. There was a salad of feta cheese and kalamata olives on a bed of lettuce, a serving of pita bread, some hot yellow peppers. The conversation went something like this:
“This platter is humongous.”
“Look at all this feta.”
“Feta cheese is so good.”
“They marinated the chicken very well.”
“The sauce is right — yogurt and cucumber.”
“The sauce is called tzatziki,” explained my friend.
“It’s good. It’s very good.”
“I just got back from Athens,” said the older daughter.
“How was the food?”
“Every day we ate gyros and souvlaki for lunch. We found a take-away like this and it was a great bargain with souvlaki at only 1.70 euros. And we found a budget restaurant for dinner. No menus. We were served whatever they had cooked. The food was delicious. We went back three times.”
“How is the salad?” I asked, drawing her back to Hagers-town.
“The salad is good. You can hardly mess up a Greek salad. In Greece, though, a salad is cucumber, tomatoes, onions, a big block of feta cheese, oil and vinegar dressing and seasonings. No lettuce. This salad has lettuce.”
“The pita bread doesn’t have a pocket,” said the younger daughter.
“That’s how they serve it in Athens,” explained her older sister. “No pocket. They wrap the pita bread around the food.”
We moved on to discuss my spanakopita. It was similar to my friend’s tiropita. The filling was enclosed in filo dough and twisted into a spiral that looked something like a galaxy or a glazed cinnamon bun.
“The dough is heavy,” I said.
“But they are cute to look at,” said my friend.
“What are they filled with?” I asked.
“Ricotta cheese, maybe. Feta cheese, maybe.”
“But the dough-to-filling ratio is high for spinach pie,” I concluded.
“Well, maybe,” said my friend.
The conversation then turned to a passionate discussion of Greek cheeses. My friend and her daughters remembered the cheeses available when they lived in New York City.
“There are a variety of Greek cheeses. I remember my grandmother using so many,” she said. “Maybe we get only feta now because it is brined, so it keeps well.”
We turned our attention the the chicken gyro (pronounced YEE-ro). This is chicken (or beef and lamb) that has been ground and seasoned. The meat is (somehow) attached to a spit and roasted on an upright rotisserie. Finally, the meat is carved by hand and served in a pita bread with tzatziki yogurt sauce and feta cheese.
“This is a good as the souvlaki,” pronounced the younger daughter.
“I liked the traditional gyro with the lamb,” I said, remembering my earlier meal.
“You eat lamb?” they asked, amazed.
“I’ll eat almost anything,” I said. “My name is Omni Vore.”
“Well, what do you think, overall,” I asked my team of evaluators.
“Not bad for the price,” said my cautious friend.
“Representational. A good introduction for those not familiar with Greek food,” said the older daughter.
“Kind of in-between fast food and Greek food,” said the younger daughter. And she looked across the street at McDonald’s.
The storm was closer, the skies menacing and the sound of thunder rumbling. A nearby American flag whipped in the wind. We forgot to order dessert as we ran for our cars. Baklava would have been good. We will have to go back.
Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.