Hellenic Hiccups

Greek House serves "Authentic Greek Fast Food" quickly and affordably, but not perfectly

When reviewing a restaurant like Greek House, things such as décor, service and music don't play a big part (although the room is comfortable, the service friendly and knowledgeable, and the music pleasant). This is an eatery designed with the college crowd in mind, so inexpensive and serviceable food served quickly is what it's all about. And for the most part, Greek House fulfills that role.

Tucked into a strip mall that also houses two longtime Tucson favorites, 1702 and Bentley's Coffee House, it faces some stiff competition. But in many ways, Greek House offers just the right balance among its neighbors. The menu is small: three or four pita sandwiches, four or five burgers, some salads and a daily special or two. Desserts include baklava ($2) and a few others with a Greek touch.

You order at the counter, and we asked for the gyros pita sandwich ($4.99), which came with fries, and the daily special, which was pastitsio ($8.95), and came with a small Greek salad. We also ordered a side of spanakopita ($4) because I love the stuff.

The food was at the table lickety-split.

The gyros was a fine version of the Mediterranean favorite. Packed into a soft but sturdy pita, the meat was seasoned to a perfect turn, allowing the full flavor of the beef/lamb combo to shine through. Tomatoes and red onions were part of the mix as were french fries in the sandwich (more about those later). The tzatziki sauce popped with a tanginess that complemented the beef rather than being a bland afterthought.

The pastitsio also held a lot of flavor. The finely ground meat, the red sauce, the tiny tubular pasta and the baked béchamel sauce came together nicely. Sadly, though, it was obvious that the slice had been quickly reheated, probably under a broiler, which dried it out (especially the béchamel). This would've been a great dish had it not been overcooked.

The small Greek salad on the side was OK. (I chose the creamy house-made feta-garlic dressing.) I say OK because the lettuce hadn't been drained enough and the salad ended up being a bit soggy. The same thing happened when we ordered the regular Greek salad ($5.99) at lunch a few days later. This time we ordered the Mediterranean vinaigrette (also house-made), which was great but lost some of its rich flavors due to the wet lettuce. Basically, the salad dressings were fantastic until they hit the salad.

The spanakopita serving was generous. Although it, too, seemed to have been reheated, it didn't seem to suffer from the heat. The phyllo was flaky and golden brown and the mix of spinach and feta was hearty and tender, with hints of herbs and spices.

For dessert, we had baklava ($2) and something called Greek flan ($4). I love baklava and Greek House does it well. Sticky and sweet—requisites for any decent baklava—this was delish. The flan, on the other hand, was not flan in any way, shape or form. Instead, it resembled coconut cream pie, with a filling that seemed more like vanilla pudding than custard, and it was topped off with whipped cream and chopped/shaved nuts. I'd give it a B-.

While the place was relatively quiet during our dinner visit, lunch was another story. Most of the tables were filled and there was a lot of "to go" action. The crowd was a mix of students and workers. Many seemed to be regulars.

We ordered the Greek House burger ($4.99), the beef souvlaki ($4.99), feta fries ($3.99) and the zucchini sticks ($4). On a lark, we also ordered the ouzo cake ($4).

The burger was big and cooked to a well-done char, and topped with tomato, red onion, lettuce and Thousand Island dressing. Again, there were some issues. The bun fell apart, so maybe it might've worked better with pita. The burger was passable but the general consensus was to stick with the Greek fixings.

Souvlaki is a longtime fave of mine, but oddly, the chunks of meat, while wonderfully seasoned, were sometimes tender and sometimes not. I'd order it again, though.

We liked how the zucchini sticks were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

I wish the same could be said of the fries. We had them on both visits and in numerous ways (plain, in the pita sandwiches and, in a house specialty, topped with feta, lemon sauce and oregano). Every which way we had them, the fries were undercooked. But poorly cooked fries seem to be common these days. For some reason, restaurants are weak when it comes to this staple. Maybe they aren't frying them twice or maybe the oil isn't hot enough.

We ordered the ouzo cake to go. Dark and moist, it resembled a spice cake that had been soaked in ouzo. I suppose if you like ouzo, you'd like this cake. I don't and I didn't.

But overall, I'd recommend Greek House. I mean, how can you go wrong with homestyle food at such reasonable prices? But I'd stick with one of the pitas and I'd skip the fries.

Mega Fries from Greek House has french fries topped with gyro meat, feta crumbles, red onions, tomatoes and cream feta garlic dressing.

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