One could argue that saganaki -- Y'know: A burst of flame, "Opa!" and all that -- is the territory of tourists and culinary bumpkins. But c'mon: Burned, booze-soaked cheese? What's not to like?
In a town that's no stranger to the hummus and olive-oil-soaked trappings of Mediterranean fare, Estia Greek Taverna & Bar, which recently opened its doors in the restaurant-rich Royal Palm Place, is one of the few proper sit-down, midrange Greek restaurants in south Palm Beach County. As such, it is one of few places where you can ask to have a portion of your dinner set afire in front of your face. At a safe distance, of course.
During a recent weeknight excursion to the new spot, I learned my dining companion had never before eaten saganaki ($9.95), thus moving it to the top of the must-order list of appetizers/small plates on our agenda.
Growing up, my parents' printing shop in eastern Michigan was within walking distance of a (kind of crummy, in retrospect) Greek diner that served, among other things, saganaki. As a teen, I developed an obsession with this simple spectacle, fueled in no small part by the fact that one poor waitress had the misfortune to set a silk hanging plant ablaze during one display and that I like the element of danger. (Everyone, except the plant, was fine.) Anyhow, it had been years -- and years -- since I had ordered the dish. Estia's version lived up to the gooey, anise-perfumed memory minus any singed foliage.
A cold sampler platter ($12.95, pictured below) of a garlic-pungent tzatziki, taramosalata (fish roe, olive oil, and lemon), hummus, tirokafteri (feta cheese, hot peppers, and olive oil), olives, and vegetarian dolmades came adorned with slices of raw cucumber and carrot, plus an extra basket of grilled pita. (Upon being seated, we were given a complimentary basket of bread and a small plate of hummus.)
A vinegar-soaked red beet salad with garlic ($7.95) and a side of classic lemon oven-roasted potatoes ($5.95) were all that was needed to put a cap on our particular feast. Meat lovers and those who don't mind having to loosen the waistband midmeal can find entrées to suit intense appetites, particularly in the meat section, with dishes like the pork chop ($17.95) and a meat sampler ($39.95) that comes with all manner of protein and fixings.
We ordered a baklava to go ($5.95), which was the right choice, as it gave the honey even more time to soak into the phyllo crust. We also accepted a complimentary semolina and cinnamon dessert from the kitchen before leaving the table. Light and not very sweet, this is a dessert for people who aren't crazy about dessert. This gift was typical of the service we encountered throughout the evening. As anyone who has visited Greece will tell you, hospitality is huge, and Estia's team appears to have gotten the memo.
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