When a successful restaurant team opens a second location, both operations often suffer.
But that isn't the case with It's Greek to Me, owned and operated by the team at Athens on Fourth Avenue. Located in Catalina, IGTM offers seriously great food in a friendly atmosphere. We enjoyed everything from beginning to end.
Avgolemono is Greek chicken soup for the body and soul—and IGTM's version ($5 cup; $8 bowl) would cure whatever ails you. Plus, it tasted wonderful. The soup consisted of rich chicken broth that was tangy from lemon, and silky smooth from orzo pasta on the verge of melting. The soup was studded with chunks of tender, white-meat chicken.
Although I'm familiar with avgolemono, the taramosalata ($6) was a whole new experience. Described as "caviar spread," the appetizer is an entrée-sized portion served with a huge stack of pita bread. Some versions are made with crumbled bread for added texture, but here, mashed potatoes are used. You get a hint of saltiness and a pretty pink hue from the caviar, which is tempered by the brightness of lemon and a little bit of olive oil. Everything is whipped into a light, creamy concoction. It's the kind of dish that could be addicting.
The roasted-red-pepper appetizer ($8) was also top-notch. Two whole, sweet red peppers had been stuffed with feta before being sautéed in olive oil, and finished off with just a hint of balsamic reduction. The cheese was gooey, and its saltiness played off the sweetness of the peppers nicely. Pita was served on the side.
Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs, the feta and Kalamata olives appetizer ($7) was as delectable as it was simple. It may seem odd to praise such a simple dish, but the appetizer was proof that IGTM uses quality ingredients in every dish.
All the entrées we tried were also mouthwateringly good.
The lamb shank ($17) is the house specialty, and with good reason. A hefty-sized shank had been slow-cooked to perfection; the meat needed only a nudge to fall away from the bone. A hint of tomato, a trace of onion and secret spices let the savory meat shine.
Pastitsio ($14) is a classic Greek dish. Here, the bottom layer of ground meat was moist and redolent with spices—cinnamon was definitely there—and could've stood alone. Atop that was a layer of tender, tubular pasta, and then a thick layer of creamy béchamel. Each bite was filled with delightful tastes and textures.
The octopus entrée ($16) consisted of six or seven large tentacles sitting on a bed of fresh, chopped tomatoes and onion. The octopus had spent some time marinating in olive oil and red-wine vinegar, which basically "cooked" the meat. Only a few minutes on the grill were needed. The result? Tender, white tentacles that sang with flavor. The white rice served alongside was topped with the house tomato sauce.
Finally, we enjoyed the pork souvlaki ($16); you can also get lamb ($18) or chicken souvlaki ($14). This, too, had spent some time in a flavorful marinade, and was then grilled to a golden brown. This was yet another perfect example of how a dish is supposed to be.
It must be noted that along with three of the entrées—the exception being the octopus—a most marvelous side dish was served: green beans in tomato sauce. The beans were flat and wide, and had been cut into inch-long pieces. Some might call the beans overcooked, but that would be a disservice, because through long-cooking, the beans had absorbed the flavors of the luscious tomato sauce. I am not a big fan of green beans, but I ate every last one of them.
The dessert menu is small, but the two samplings we had were outstanding.
The honey lemon cake ($6) was light and moist, and held just a hint of lemon to balance the sweetness of the honey. The portion was big enough for two. The baklava ($5) was perhaps the best I've ever had. Served slightly warm, the layers of phyllo were flaky without being dry; the nuts were big and tasty; and the syrup didn't overpower the rest of the ingredients.
The service was wonderful. On our first visit, we were practically the only people in the restaurant, so we got a lot of attention. The chef and owner, George, came out and spent time at every table, explaining how he prepares his dishes and the ingredients he uses. He noted that at lunch, he'll prepare all of the dinner options (and vice versa). If you want something special, all you need to do is call ahead. George's passion was clear: He wants people to enjoy his food.
On a second visit, there was no time for visiting. It was a Friday night, and the snowbirds from SaddleBrooke and Rancho Vistoso were out in full force. We had called for reservations—talking to George—but when we arrived, there was no record of them. No problem; the savvy staff got us a table in minutes. The servers were kept running, taking care of big parties and small parties, pouring wine, flaming cheese and clearing tables. All of it was done with an honest pleasantness that impressed.
The main dining room is brightly lit and decorated with scenes of life in Greece. A mural of Santorini is painted on a corner wall. Another mural, featuring cherubs floating on the ceiling, is interesting, to say the least. There is a smaller dining room off to the side that seems a bit more formal.
It's Greek to Me, despite the cumbersome name, is a true gem—one that's worth the trip to Catalina.