Yanni's The Little Greek is tucked into a corner of the Trader Joe's shopping plaza at Wilmot Road and Speedway Boulevard. It's a family joint, small, unassuming and easy to miss (although a busy Saturday night dinner proved that many people have discovered this place). The food is homey and good, portions are plentiful, the people are friendly and the room is cozy, with splashes of Greek everywhere.
The dozen or so tables are topped with silvery oilcloth that adds a "fancy" touch. On each table you'll find a tiny vase with delicate red silk flowers and one (just one) menu. The walls are painted Aegean blue and hung with white, circular plaques that resemble ancient architecture. Photos of Greece can also be found. The kitchen is partly exposed with the pass right in the middle of everything.
After you've read the menu, you order at the counter (more about that later).
At lunch, we were practically the only people in the place, and we had the server/cashier/cook's undivided attention. We got wonderful explanations about all of the food. He was passionate about the avgolemono ($6.95), as well he should be. The soup was a wonderful reiteration of this classic dish. The good-sized portion was silky smooth, fragrant with a lemony goodness and studded with shreds of white-meat chicken and bits of orzo pasta. Warm pita was served alongside. The soup was hearty and heartwarming.
We also ordered the gyro sandwich with Greek fries ($8.95) and the shrimp souvlaki sandwich ($8.95) with rice pilaf. Both were topped with tomato, feta and onions, with a delicious tzatziki sauce on the side.
The gyro was packed with tender meat. The seasoning was perfect in that it allowed the meat to shine rather than overpowering it. The wedge fries were a big hit. Hot from the fryer, they were lightly crisp on the outside and soft and puffy inside.
The souvlaki was also tasty. Again, the seasoning was practically perfect and the shrimp was tender and sweet. The pilaf passed muster.
The one dessert we tried, the galaktobouriko, had been warmed just a bit and then drizzled with a touch of honey. It was a delightful bit of eggy lightness redolent with lemon and a hint of vanilla.
At dinner, we ordered the lamb shank ($12.95), the pastitsio ($12.95) and the spanakopita ($6.95 a la carte). Dinners come with a small but tasty Greek salad, rice pilaf, pita and tzatziki sauce.
The spanakopita was a good-sized portion loaded with spinach that was flecked with feta and held just a hint of mint. We cleaned the plate and really should've asked for another order to take home.
The lamb had been cooking all day, according to the chef/server/cashier, and the meat fairly fell off the bone. The piece was a bit fatty, but was full of flavor from all that long, slow cooking in a tomato-ey sauce.
I was served moussaka instead of the requested pastitsio. I seldom send things back to the kitchen, and never do when I'm working, so I dug into the meaty casserole. The ground meat was plentiful and well seasoned, and topped with a wonderfully smooth and nicely browned béchamel, but the dish could've used a little more eggplant.
Oddly enough, another table was also given the wrong food. And I think I know why.
There was a nice crowd at dinner and only two people working. So just as at lunch, the cashier was also the cook, the server and the busser. That's too many balls in the air for one person to handle and likely led to the food mix-up. Being a small family business means operating on a tight budget, but table service might've worked better—at least at dinner. Ordering at the counter makes it too easy to forget which table ordered what dishes.
No alcohol is served, but The Little Greek invites patrons to bring their own wine or beer. The corkage fee is a mere $2. That's a deal and a half when you check out corkage fees around town.
A couple of minor quibbles: The Little Greek has special prices on the sandwiches ($6.95 rather than $8.95) between 2 and 4 p.m. I don't get that. If the specials were offered at lunchtime, it might bring in a bigger crowd.
It should also be noted that The Little Greek is strictly a cash or check operation. There is an ATM machine in the restaurant, but being able to pay with a credit/debit card is essential. It can be costly to work with the credit card companies, but customers would probably spend more money if they could use their cards.
The Little Greek has a lot going for it. The owners are passionate about their food, which translates into some really good dishes, and the room is cozy and inviting. Although the neighborhood has well-known Mexican, Japanese and Chinese restaurants nearby, a touch of the Mediterranean is most welcome. The restaurant hasn't been open long, so as time passes let's hope those minor kinks are worked out.