By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Most of us will put up with a lot so long as we're well entertained. And reasonably fed. Just give us our bread and circuses — and "Mitt Romney" could be the name of an exotic entrée for all we care.
It wasn't only the Roman hoi polloi who were so easily diverted. Juvenal's ancient precept explains why all these years later, Taverna Opa, one of the longest-running Greek restaurants in South Florida, is still such a hit. Half-naked women, high rollers, exploding crockery, flying napkins, uninhibited drunks — nobody ever accused Opa of failing to put on a show. And their pita ain't bad either.
This waterfront Greek tavern in Hollywood is notorious for its table dancing — rightly so in the case of the belly-shakers with their veils and bells; maybe not so much for the gyrations of bored and embarrassed waitrons required to put down their trays and hop around every so often. There's the amenable clatter of smashing plates, a fat red sun setting over the water, and the kind of revelries fueled by way too much ouzo and retsina. Shiny Jags and Maseratis are forever gunning up to the valet station. Parades of sweet young things in skimpy frippery disembark from cigarette boats. I once saw a woman at Taverna Opa tip her chair backward into the Intracoastal — good fun!
6298 N. Federal Highway
Boca Raton, FL 33487
Region: Boca Raton
11401 NW 12th St.
Doral, FL 33172
Region: West Dade
Opa's meze and grilled meats are usually excellent too — from fire-roasted prawns to chickpeas with oil and lemon, served in a mash-it-yourself mortar with grilled bread. It's good news that they're expanding — Taverna Opa Fort Lauderdale has hit its stride, and Taverna Opa City Place is scheduled to debut on the top floor of the old FAO Schwartz building this fall. The same outfit, headed by Peter Tsialiamanis, also runs Taverna Kyma in Boca. More about that in a minute.
The problem: Opa can be impossible to get into. They don't accept reservations (you show up for the 7:30 cattle call and take your chances). And the service is shaky. You may find yourself rustling up your own silverware, marching back to the kitchen with the plate of spanakopita you never ordered, or fending off the "suggestions" of your server, who'd frankly rather not hang out while your party of 15 bickers over the distribution of the meze.
I've gone into some detail here about Opa because for too long it's cornered the local market on wild greens and lamb sausage. It ought to be good news that some fresh Greek-flavored competition has arrived in town to pick up the slack: Avra Taverna on Commercial Boulevard and Taverna Eros in Delray, both new this summer, and Taverna Kyma in Boca, Opa's younger and more sedate cousin, which opened in January. They've all got their own version of party-hearty, with dancing and live music or DJs on weekends. But a belly dance is a belly dance is a belly dance. Just tell me what they're doing with their skordalia.
Not much, in the case of Taverna Eros. I had high hopes for this one; the space they've commandeered on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, a few doors down from 32 East and Delux, is gorgeous, with indoor and outdoor dining, a full bar, and some semi-veiled private tables that could be romantic. Two tall indoor trees (silk, I believe) make a backdrop for the bar between flat screens; the lighting is low and so is the music, at least until the DJ starts spinning around 10 p.m. We stopped by for a round of small plates one Wednesday evening just as the kitchen was closing, at 9:30 (they serve later on weekends), and, thinking the apps would give us the best range, ordered pikilia platter ($12, four dips plus stuffed grape leaves and olives), saganaki (flaming cheese, $7) and grilled octopus ($10) from a menu of meze that included butterflied shrimp and grilled calamari, spanakopita and salads, pan fried smelts (our waiter described these unenthusiastically as "bait fish" — hey, at least he wasn't up-selling us), roast potatoes, fries with dip, and stewed string beans with tomatoes, priced from $4 to $12.
Eros' soft, smoky pita, still warm and cross-hatched with grill marks, and complimentary hummus, was so awesome I'd go back just to devour it with a couple of cocktails. But everything else we ordered turned out to be dismal — over-salted in every case; too full of vinegar for even my sourpuss palate; and weirdly similar, so that the octopus tasted just like the tzatziki (sheep or goat's milk yogurt with cucumber), which tasted like the skordalia (garlicky potatoes with olive oil), which tasted like the taramasalata (cod roe dip), which tasted like the melitsanosalata (roasted eggplant) and the dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) — an unvarying lineup of flavor and texture that wouldn't do a thing to further Greek civilization. Our flaming cheese came to the table flameless ("Oops, I guess it went out," our waiter said), a salty tablet doused in cheap cognac; our "grilled" octopus rings ($10) were puny, pathetic, and sour. After we'd made our way through this mess, my spousal equivalent noted that she felt like she'd just had a bad one-night stand — sort of amusing while you're going at it, but afterwards there's a creeping nausea, part literal, part existential. Did I really need to do that?