Usually I can tell a restaurant is owned by a person of Greek heritage without looking at the menu. It’s the décor, often punctuated with scenes of sun-washed Aegean seaside and ancient pillared edifices.
The first time I walked into the restaurant at 2878 Delaware Ave. in Kenmore, I briefly considered whether my information was accurate. But it said Eggsperience Vasilis on the sign, so I forged ahead. The Greek breakfast with chicken souvlaki told me everything else I need to know. This family restaurant has a Greek heart, all right – it’s just a little nicer than the Greek diners you might be used to.
Vasilis Panagopoulos started his first restaurant in 1983 on Hertel Avenue, where Lloyd Taco Factory is now, and he runs Vasilis Express stores on Elmwood Avenue and Main Street in University Heights. This is his wife Chrystalia’s place, and it’s prettier than most diners.
Inside, wooden doors are used as design elements to break up a long room that stretches all the way to the parking lot in the rear. There’s lots of tall plants, and chandeliers sporting disco balls. Those photographs on the wall are Greek after all – an Athens park, an olive grove – just not stereotypical.
You could say the same thing about the menu. It’s a standard family restaurant menu, but the Greek essentials are here: souvlaki, spanakopita, gyro, avgolemono soup, but no moussaka or pastitsio.
I had the chance to eat breakfast and dinner here. The breakfast and lunch offerings, served until 3 p.m., are much broader than dinner choices, and dinner isn’t offered Sunday through Tuesday. The impression it leaves is a breakfast and lunch specialist that serves dinner some nights.
Small grace notes stand out, such as the fresh fruit skewer (cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, grapes) that came with the Greek breakfast ($10.99). It was my favorite chicken souvlaki breakfast in recent memory, a position cemented by well-marinated chicken tenders seared crusty but still moist inside. It came with tzatziki with garlic and cucumber flavor and well-browned potatoes, plus a pair of eggs cooked over easy, as requested, and griddled pita.
The same chicken souvlaki stars in an open chicken souvlaki ($10.99), where it tops a Greek salad of iceberg lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, pitted Kalamata olives and feta cheese, with tzatziki and pita. It hit the spot, even though one hunk of iceberg was as big as my fist.
Another breakfast standout was the puffy waffle topped with fresh sliced bananas and strawberries, with a copious hazelnut-chocolate drizzle over the top ($10.99).
Dinner brought light but lemony avgolemono soup ($3.99 bowl), with rice, celery, carrots and shredded chicken. It was satisfying but not as bright with citrus as the first time I tried it. Creamy New England clam chowder tasted more like chicken a la king, leaving me puzzled.
A tirokafteri dip ($6.99) was a zesty combination of roasted red peppers, feta cheese and spices, which we happily scooped up with pita. Chicken souvlaki also comes in a poutine-like setting ($8.99), chopped atop crispy french fries, with feta and Greek salad dressing instead of curds and gravy. Spanakopita, or spinach pie ($6.99), was a snail-coiled version, with enough spinach and tender pastry to leave me happy.
Beef souvlaki dinner ($12.99) was my hit of the night, with chunks of marinated beef grilled with some pink left inside. Accompanying Greek potatoes weren’t pan-roasted, but tasted of lemon, leaving me pleased, and there was Greek salad, too. A pork chop dinner ($11.99) from the slim selection of dinner entrees brought two bone-on loin chops, thin but not overcooked, bone-chewingly pleasant.
Haddock Florentine ($13.99) was a filet topped with fresh spinach, portobella mushrooms, mozzarella and tomatoes. Its freshness came through, but it was underseasoned, leaving a bland impression. The beer-battered haddock filet central to the fish fry ($10.99) was a worthy effort, but the macaroni salad was pale in flavor, and the coleslaw, while fresh, was mainly sweet.
Eggsperience Vasilis doesn’t offer alcohol, but will let you bring your own wine, and will offer you glasses and the use of a corkscrew. Next time I would come prepared with a bottle. Our server was game but busy, and arrived with an armload of entrees with our spent appetizer plates still on the table.
A small rice pudding, creamy, cinnamon-dusted, and not-too-sweet, was complimentary. Baklava ($2.99), served warm, was crunchy with walnuts and crisped phyllo, a decent ending.
Eggsperience Vasilis is a welcome step up from the standard Greek diner, even if it’s not a big step. Among the United Nations of flavors that’s appearing along Delaware Avenue in Kenmore, of all places, there’s a new neighbor to meet – and they speak Greek.
Eggsperience Vasilis - 7 plates (out of 10)
Grace notes in decor, dishes make this more than just another Greek diner.
WHERE: 2878 Delaware Ave., Kenmore, 873-3447
HOURS: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Starters, $3.99-$8.99; breakfasts, $5.99-$12.99; lunches, $6.99-$12.99; dinners, $10.99-$14.99.
PARKING: Lot behind building, street.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.