Obstacles to Success

The Greek Patio offers cheap food, fast—but that food needs to improve

The Greek diet has been touted as a life-lengthening, heart-healthy cure-all that makes your skin smooth and your hair shiny; in general, it supposedly gets you one step closer to looking like Jennifer Aniston. It's also supposed to be delicious—full of fresh vegetables and lean, flavorful meats.

Unfortunately, at The Greek Patio, the food doesn't quite measure up to those high standards. Full disclosure: I am fortunate enough to get delicious, home-cooked Greek food on a fairly regular basis from my in-laws, so I know just how tasty Greek food can be.

The Greek Patio has been a just-off-campus quick lunch spot for years, and has changed hands a few times. The latest iteration seems to be the most disappointing ... and that shows in the number of other customers (zero) on both of my visits.

I tried two vegetarian entrées—the falafel plate ($7.95, with drink), and the dolmades deluxe ($7.95, with drink)—on two separate visits. The dolmades were nearly inedible. Drenched and sopping in olive oil, each dolma was so densely packed that it was like eating glue. Traditionally, even the vegetarian versions of dolmades include rice, onions, finely chopped parsley and various other herbs and spices. If there was anything other than rice inside that tightly rolled grape leaf, it was undetectable, overwhelmed by the sticky rice and greasy oil.

The dolmades plate comes with what is listed on the menu as not a salad, but "tomatoes, cucumbers and pita bread." The chopped cucumbers and hard, unripe tomatoes were also slathered in oil, this time in the form of an unpleasant Italian-style dressing.

The falafel was nearly as inedible as the dolmades. The saving grace was that each tiny silver-dollar-sized falafel actually had lovely spices and flavors; it's too bad that they were hockey-puck hard and so dry that even an entire ramekin of tzatziki sauce couldn't save them. Even the french fries were in a sad state, limp and grainy, as if cooked for too short a time in oil that wasn't quite hot enough. They were also in desperate need of seasoning.

I had higher hopes for the meat dishes, but my still-low expectations weren't met. The gyro plate ($7.95, with drink) with horiatiki salad suffered from the same fate as the falafels: The gyro meat was chewy and dry, and the pita was tough. The horiatiki salad—cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, with two black (not kalamata, but canned black) olives and an indistinguishable type of shredded cheese that didn't taste like feta—was passable, but was also drenched with the same Italian-style dressing that came on my dolmades plate.

The chicken souvlaki plate ($7.95, with drink) was a sorry excuse for souvlaki. Generally, souvlaki is small, tender chunks of varying kinds of meat, skewered and slowly grilled until tender and delicious. This was three large-ish strips of white-meat chicken tenders, which looked and tasted like the meat one would use to make fried-chicken fingers. They were not skewered, and while they were indeed grilled, they were dry and rubbery.

The chicken strips were served dry on another chewy pita, with no tzatziki sauce or other wetting agent that might have made the bland combo anywhere near edible. The Greek salad that came with the souvlaki plate was also in sorry shape—a small heap of limp iceberg lettuce topped by too-large slices of raw white onion, a few unripe tomato chunks and, again, the black olives and mystery shredded non-feta cheese.

The only highlight of either visit, food-wise, was the tzatziki and hummus platter ($6.50) with two pitas. The hummus was flavorful, though a bit heavy on the tahini for my taste. The tzatziki, although a bit on the runny side, was cool and refreshing.

The Greek Patio faces some nonculinary obstacles on the path to success as well, including the terrible parking situation, and the less-than-stellar customer service that was received on both visits.

For now, I'll seek out other options for a quick and affordable lunch near the university.

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