Many years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a Summer backpacking across Europe with a friend of mine.  Since we were young and poor, we pretty much subsisted on ploughman’s lunches and beer for the duration of the trip.  And of course, the ubiquitous gyro, which could be found at carts and stands nearly everywhere we went.  Cheap and satisfying, there is nothing quite like eating a gyro on the beach somewhere along the Cote d’Azur in the middle of July.  Which is the primary reason I keep returning to Plaka Estiatorio in Ballard.  The gyros at Plaka send me straight back to that beach, every time.

In fact, nearly everything at Plaka is remarkably authentic.  Owned and run by several generations of the Tziotis and Mandapat families, relations abound (as evidenced by the photos which line the walls).  Not surprisingly, everybody is impossibly sweet and hospitable.  The room is spacious and comfortable, filled with baskets of fresh produce and bright flowers.  The entryway is flanked by some admittedly cheesy faux Grecian pillars, but honestly, it’s hard to care much about the décor.  Since opening last Spring, this is easily the best Greek food I’ve eaten in Seattle.

plaka interior

Start with some hummus (or more appropriately, revithosalata).  Spicy, creamy, garlicky, sprinkled with oregano and fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.  It’s served with grilled whole wheat pita bread served hot.  Also marvelous: a bowl of warm, comforting avgolemono soup – the best I’ve had.  Moist chunks of chicken float in a thick, savory rice porridge, the flavor of lemon is strong and tangy and elevates the entire dish.  I can’t wait until it gets cold and dark and rainy – this soup will be a bright little reminder of Summertime.

I’m not crazy about the Greek fries (about the only thing I’m not crazy about at Plaka).  Hand-cut with the skins on, crispy with a coating of dried oregano and covered with huge chunks of tangy, salty feta cheese.  They’re just not as inspired as the rest of the menu.  Go for something more exotic, like the kalamarakia.  Served with a potent spread of cold garlic mashed potatoes topped with olive oil, the Monterey Bay squid are lightly fried and have a perfect chewy texture.  Not overdone, and not too greasy.  I love it, but man is that garlic spread powerful strong.

plaka pillar

Okay, so the signature Plaka gyro is traditionally Athenian and made with a pungent mixture of veal and lamb.  It’s chewy, with an incredibly deep flavor and rich taste.  The tzatziki sauce is genuinely thick and creamy and tastes like real yogurt and cucumbers and mint.  The whole wheat pita bread is thin and warm and wrapped in a green and white checkerboard sleeve.  Even better: the grilled chicken souvlaki.  Peppery and moist, and perfectly tender.  The loukaniko pork sausage is also outstanding, thinly sliced and remarkably lean.  Not too spicy with loads of black pepper, the sausage is grilled up and served with caramelized onions and roasted green bell peppers.

For the veggies in the audience – the falafel in pita is crispy and spicy, made with lots of fresh cilantro which imparts a nice bright aftertaste.  The gyro is stuffed with scallions and sweet, sweet, wonderful radishes, red onions and fresh lettuce pulled straight out of the basket up front.  And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you bite into a juicy Roma tomato.  Fresh dill is sprinkled throughout.  The quality of the ingredients is simply top notch, screamingly fresh.

And just to round things out, the wine list is awesome and the service is knowledgeable.  Everything is imported directly from Greece, and I’ve now tried some gorgeous wines that I had no idea even existed.

See you at the beach.

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