I’ve often fantasized about what it would be like to live in a little European city. I’d wake up from my mid-day nap, hide my bed-head with my beret, pick out my least-wrinkled black-and-white striped shirt, and hit the shops. I’d go to the bakery for fresh bread, swing by the cheese shop for a little bit of the stinky stuff, make a stop at the butcher’s for some protein, and spend the rest of my life cooking and learning the accordion. While I might never follow through with that fantasy (there never seems to be a job in my daydream), there are a couple of places around town that kind of give off the Euro-market-bistro vibe, places where I put on my mental beret each time I enter.
You could walk into the comfortably small dining room of George’s Imported Foods (4424 White Settlement Rd.), close your eyes, and easily convince yourself that you’re lunching in a small Greek city. The tiny, off-the-beaten-path imported-foods market and bistro reopened its hallowed doors last December. The place has the same ragtag charisma and homey charm that it’s always had. There’s a pastry case in the center of the room full of baklava, cheesecake, and other tasty pastries, imported all the way from the Artisan Baking Co. a couple of blocks away (4900 White Settlement Rd.). The walls are lined with shelves stocked with imported oils, spreads, olives, and more. The only real change in décor is a mural that primed my palate for some classic Greek fare — George’s menu offers plenty of the classics and a few traditional deli options.
There aren’t many places in town that serve great dolmas, so I had to order a couple ($1.90 each) of the tender little morsels. They’re served warm with a beautifully garlicky tzatziki sauce, green olives, a slice of lemon, and red bell pepper chunks on top. The grape leaves are stuffed with a flavorful mixture of ground beef, rice, and parsley, but it was the tzatziki sauce that elevated the dish to something downright decadent. Just as successful was the spanakopita ($3.49), lush with spinach, strong feta cheese, and parsley, stuffed in a buttery, elegant phyllo dough.
The main dishes are sandwiches and whole-meal salads. I opted for the panino ($5.99), served on buttery focaccia bread made fresh at Artisan Baking. The delicious bread would have stolen the show, were it not for the creamy, sharp Bulgarian feta cheese, which is slathered generously and complemented by fresh basil, spinach, tomato, purple onion, and olive oil.
Oliver’s Fine Foods (415 Throckmorton St.) may not have the same vintage Euro vibe as George’s, but it still has that quality market feel, as though everything in its deli cases and shelves had been curated by someone with superior taste. Its massive downtown location, opened last November, is more of a one-stop grocery that also serves an outstanding lunch and breakfast. There are several intriguing grab-and-go options that I considered taking home and taking credit for, but my integrity was left intact on a recent afternoon visit.
The French press sandwich ($6.50) was a masterpiece of grilled chicken breast, marinated tomatoes, onions, gooey brie cheese, and balsamic mayo on French bread. The whole-meal salad — a mango strawberry chicken salad ($7.50) with Mandarin oranges, red onions, cucumbers, strawberries, roasted walnuts, and feta cheese over a bed of field greens, tossed in a mango vinaigrette — struck a nice balance of sweet and savory. It was fresh, vibrant, and healthy brain-food.
I might never get to live out my Euro Chow, Baby fantasy, but I can pretend. I tried offering a baguette and a nice brie to my boss to convince her that paid afternoon naps should be part of the company benefits package. She mumbled something about European notions bringing down the world economy and suggested I take a virtual leap in my virtual beret. Or maybe it was “vertical.”
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