A Feel for Greece

OPA! brings tasty Greek food to Campbell Avenue's restaurant row

If Tucson has a "restaurant row," it has to be Campbell Avenue. With countless spots ranging from hole-in-the-wall joints to pay-a-pretty-penny places, this thoroughfare can satisfy just about any food craving. Until recently, the exception was Greek food.

As of October of last year, that is no longer the case. Anyone with a hankering for hummus or a passion for pita now has OPA!

We arrived to find an almost empty dining room, but before we'd finished the complimentary hummus mezedes (that's appetizers), just about every table was filled. The young servers were moving swiftly between the tightly packed tables like marathon runners.

After one bite of the hummus, and I knew OPA! was on to something. There was plenty of the chickpea spread, enough to easily satisfy four or more. Warm pita bread was served with it, and when we ran out, our server made sure we had more. With chickpeas, garlic, lemon and just a touch of tahini, the hummus was a delight.

We then ordered our entrées. John had the gyros platter ($9.50), and I ordered the beef ka-bob platter ($9.50). The platters all came with a small Greek salad, pilaf, pita bread and tzatziki, a traditional dip comprised of cool sour cream, cucumber, garlic, lemon, dill and olive oil. (Sometimes this dip is made with yogurt.)

John ordered a Greek beer ($4), but I stuck to water, even though there is a nice little wine list--mostly Greek offerings, as one would expect.

One certainly gets a feel for Greece at OPA! One wall sports a large photo of the Parthenon; another sports a mural of what I think is the island of Santorini. The tablecloths are the deep-blue color of the Aegean, on top of tables packed together like one might find at a homey little taverna. Greek music emanates from the sound system, although when the place is crowded, the music gets lost. And when someone orders the flaming saganaki or flaming feta, everyone in the room is treated to the presentation: a flash of fire and a rousing shout of OPA!

After watching several of these dramatic presentations, our food was at the table. The plates were large white squares, and every inch was filled with food. In one corner was a small Greek salad with olives, onions, cucumber, green pepper, carrots, tomato and--of course--feta. Another corner held a huge scoop of rice pilaf, bright yellow in color (I'd guess from turmeric). Warm pita bread was in third corner, and in the final corner was the meat. In the middle of all that food was the tzatziki. It was a beautiful and mind-bogglingly large presentation.

The gyros offered traditionally spiced, tender strips of beef and lamb. A triangle of pita, a few slices of the meat and a dollop of the tzatziki resulted in a cool, spicy, mellow, hot taste sensation. The same could be said about the kabob. The two skewers of beef were tender, and the myriad flavors (thyme, rosemary, oregano and wine) had been seared into the meat, forming a delicious char.

The salad was tossed with a piquant dressing, which enhanced all of those ingredients. However, I wasn't fond of the rice. The spices overpowered the usually mild pilaf, but I'm sure this was just a personal thing.

As if we had room, we ordered dessert. John got the baklava ($5), and I ordered the lemon cake ($5). Again, we were impressed with the portions. The baklava was easily double the size of similar offerings at other places. Plenty of cinnamon, honey and walnuts were balanced out by the golden phyllo. The lemon cake could've been a tad more moist, but with the whipped- cream frosting and a light drizzle of lemon syrup, it was also a pleasurable ending.

It must be noted we had leftover everything but hummus.

Meal No. 2 came on a rainy, cold Monday, and even then--Mondays are notoriously slow nights in the restaurant business--there was a decent crowd.

Looking over the huge menu, we realized that there aren't as many real choices as it might first appear. Many of the items are served in a number of ways. Even though our choices that evening mirrored the previous ones, the presentation added a different touch.

John chose the beef souvlaki pita sandwich ($7.50). I ordered a favorite: the spanakopita platter ($8). I also ordered a glass of Greek red wine ($6), while John had lemonade ($1.95). John's meal came with fries and tzatziki; mine came with the Greek salad, pita, pilaf and hummus.

We also split a bowl of the chicken, rice, vegetable and lemon soup ($4).

Service on both occasions was most pleasant, if a little unpolished. As time passes, the staff should be able to smooth out the few rough edges.

The soup was interesting: Not thin, not thick, the broth was rich and sang with chicken flavor and an undertone of lemon. Flecks of herbs added color and just hints of what they might be.

The souvlaki pita, packed with plenty of that tender spiced beef, was very good, although the fries were unremarkable. My entrée was thick with a mild spinach and feta mix, all packed in between layers of golden, light phyllo. I'd give it a solid B. Oddly, the portions of the pilaf and salad were noticeably smaller on this night. The pilaf looked and tasted different--it was not so yellow or heavily seasoned.

For dessert, we ordered the raspberry chocolate cake ($5). This was a disappointment: It was topped with overly sweetened strawberries instead of raspberries, and the chocolate didn't taste right.

All in all, OPA! is a great addition to Campbell Avenue. With hearty portions of traditional Greek dishes, reasonable prices and a great location, we can probably count on OPA! being around for a while. And to that, I say: "OPA!"

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