The popular image of Greek restaurants isn’t terribly new — some bouzouki music, a mural of Santorini (the island that must have the strictest homeowners’ association in the world), and someone asking, “You like-a da sauce?” every few minutes.
Mina and Dimi’s Greek House has been simultaneously conforming to and resisting that stereotype for over a decade. Much has been made of the raucous wine tastings that Dimi occasionally holds — plates smashing on the floor, belly dancers pulling people out of their chairs, retsina wine being consumed so rapidly that nobody realizes it’s awful — but not enough is said about their lunch experience, which is the restaurant’s forte.
The folks on the Westside and at Lackland have kept Dimi’s prosperous; in exchange, the couple have given them a simple but powerful menu of Greek favorites that defy stereotype.
The gyro is the standard by which most Greek restaurants are judged, and Dimi’s is excellent. It is flavorful without being overpowering, and the condiments are present enough to keep the spicy meat in check. If the chicken gyro is a little too mustardy for you (a bizarre choice, I thought), simply add to it from the Greek salad that comes with the combo and you’ll find it balances out perfectly. The pitas are soft and savory, though Dimi had to stop basting them in lamb juices years ago due to the objections from vegetarian customers. Ask nicely if business is slow and he might do it for you.
Dimi is careful with his phylo, and his spanakopita is impressively fresh and flaky. If you’re new to Greek food, forego the entrees and try the “taste it all” mélange of appetizers. There you’ll find a snapshot of authentic and deceptively simple Greek food: olives, feta, dolmades (Dimi does not make the common mistake of drowning grape leaves in lemon juice), tyrakopita, and potatoes baked Greek style. If you can’t find something to love on that plate, Greek food isn’t for you.
If you’re willing to admit that you know Greek food as gyros or souvlaki only, after the “taste it all” you’ll find yourself deciding you’ll come back soon just to try some other things that you didn’t know about. Dimi opens doors to his native cuisine in a way that no caricature of a Greek restaurant can.
It’s not all James Beard perfection. The French fries aren’t memorable, and while Greek okra is usually braised in tomatoes in a red sauce, not here. There is no difference between Dimi’s deep-fried okra and that found in any other southern restaurant. I was disappointed at first to see it on my plate, but then I had a culinary epiphany: fried okra dipped in tzatziki sauce. That works.
Some practical issues: the service is in-your-face hospitality. If Dimi doesn’t know you, act like you know him and he’ll return the favor. The wait staff is overly friendly and responsive, as if he beats them when you aren’t looking (He doesn’t. His wife, co-proprietor Alicia, wouldn’t allow it, I think).
Keep in mind that the lunch wave from Lackland hits the restaurant like a North Shore 30-footer. If you arrive between 12:15 and 12:45, you might find a line out the door. It’s worse during the Friday buffet. There’s a reason for this. Be patient. The line moves briskly unless Dimi gets monopolized by some regulars at the register.
If you’re taking a friend to lunch and want to listen to them, sit towards the door. If you’re taking someone to lunch because you have to, sit towards the counter: the noise of the kitchen and the Mediterranean music blaring will keep you blissfully deaf as your saganaki burns to a beautiful crisp.
Yes, there is a mural in the restaurant that resembles Santorini, if you’re the artist’s mother. Otherwise, it is horrible, but almost hypnotically so. You won’t mind it, of course, because you “like-a da sauce.” And you’ll know you’re tasting something special that defies whatever décor you have to endure. •
Mina and Dimi’s
7159 Hwy 90 W
The Skinny: You like-a da sauce.
Best Bets: Gyros salad. Taste It All Combo.Moussaka.
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri and Sat 11-9pm. Be prepared to be belly-danced upon if you have a late seating.
Prices: Lunch Entrees $4.99-$12.99, Dinner Entrees $6.99-$14.99