Hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, tabbouleh vegetarian platter

The Great Greek


If I want to eat vegetarian, and I usually do, I know I can always rely on restaurants with names like Arabesque or Oasis. So when I recently had a hankering for some hummus, I thought, “how can I go wrong with a place named: The Great Greek?” Located on a busy stretch of Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks, CA, with the name on a billboard, a giant blue awning, and stretched across the front of the building complete with dancing Zorba, it’s hard to miss.

I was there for a late lunch at 3 PM so the place was dead inside, but not outside. A cacophony of car, motorcycle, and bus noises illustrated the perils of being on Ventura Blvd and often overwhelmed the Greek muzak as the dominant background.

There are two dining areas, one is slightly nicer and further away from the street noise with booths, chairs, and white table cloths topped with paper to cut down on table cloth washing from spills.

The other area is a more laid-back sunroom with more of the Ventura Blvd “ambiance” and cream-and-milk-chocolate-checkerboard-faux-wicker-plastic chairs plus more paper-topped table cloths.

As expected, The Great Greek has lots of veggie options such as, tzatziki, hummus, Greek soups and salads, as well as non-veggie offerings, e.g. char-grilled baby octopus, moussaka, and kebabs made of various hoofed and clawed beasts i.e. beef, lamb, and chicken. As I considered the menu, my server brought me bread.

And oh, what delicious bread it was; served slightly warm with a crunchy crust and a soft-pleasingly-sour interior, accompanied by mildly flavored olive oil. Despite how good it was though, I wanted pita, not bread to dip in my Greek spread so I ordered pita for 2 which cost me an extra $2.45.

I would have preferred a smaller portion or even better, pita included with my meal instead of bread. Also, the pitas soft texture reminded me of processed white bread that can age on the counter with no signs of decay. It wasn’t bad, but I’ve had better.
My entree came with a soup or salad and while the Great Greek’s salad didn’t transport me back to Santorini, with romaine lettuce, a cardboardy tomato, red onions, green bell pepper, cucumber, feta, and a savory vinaigrette it didn’t need a taste bail out either.

I love having a lot of flavors in one meal so I ordered the veggie platter which was a tour of Greece with: stewed potatoes, Greek style rice, veggies, tzatziki, hummus, eggplant melizano-salata, tabbouleh, spinach cheese filo pie i.e. spanikopita, Greek fassolia beans, tomato and cucumber, and that Greek salad for $12.95.

The eggplant dip was deliciously soft and creamy, but needed more depth of flavor, which I can eek out of the dips I make by grilling or roasting the eggplant. The tzatziki was a study in perfection, rich and creamy with a distinct cucumber and onion taste, practically a meal in itself and a satisfying stand-in for cheese. The spanikopita was Greek comfort food with a dense, dark, rich, and soul-satisfying spinach taste, and a pleasingly tart twang from lemon juice.
Unfortunately the filo was soggy and the dish had an off taste from the cheese that reminded me of Kraft canned Parmesan. I know given the time from kitchen to table it would be impossible to make this dish to order but it would have been better if it were fresher. That’s what I get for eating lunch at 3.

Rounding out the plate; the lightly flavored cabbage in tomato broth was an interesting side but seemed more Eastern European than Greek; the rice was nice, light but with a flavor kick from the addition of stock; the fassolia beans were chalky at first bite then turned to creamy with a nice acidity from the tomato sauce; and the potatoes were big, nicely seasoned, and perfectly cooked but, even for a Carb lover like me, potato and rice seem like carb-overload. It would have been a more interesting and satisfying dish with a bigger portion of eggplant, hummus, tabbouleh or some falafel and dolmas instead.

If you find yourself with a hankering for hummus or any other GOOD Greek food, it’s worth stopping by The Great Greek, but if you’re looking for GREAT Greek food, I’d keep looking. I know I’m going to.
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The Counter Veggie Burger

The Counter

People often ask me if I’m a vegetarian because I generally don’t eat something that used to make an animal noise, except something unique like: le quack quack of duck confit in France, la oink oink of morcilla (blood sausage) in Spain or the “DAMN YOU Francisco Pizarro” of Cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. While I’m no Andrew Zimmern, my picky childhood taught me that life’s too short not to try something new. Still given my preference for vegetarianism, you wouldn’t expect me to recommend a burger joint. But The Counter in Santa Monica, CA is not your J. Wellington Wimpy’s Burger joint. From the outside, The Counter doesn’t look like much. A sun beaten facade on a busy LA street.
The Counter Marquee
Inside the place sports a retro burger joint feel. It’s bright with lots of unadorned tables, a serve yourself soda fountain and of course – a counter.
The Counters Counter
You start by filing out a check list. While I didn’t order the beef, it was reassuring to see at the top of the check list, “Fresh 100% Natural Angus Beef. Hormone and Antibiotic Free. Humanely Raised + Handled.” I assume that applies to the chicken and turkey too but I’m not positive. Something to ask if you’re inclined to order them. In my experience, if a restaurant or store cares about the quality of their meat then the veggies will be good and vice versa.
The Counter Menu
The checklist is broken down into 5 easy steps.

1) Choose a burger and size.  Your options are 1/3lb, 2/3 lb or a whopping pound of beef,  chicken, turkey, veggie or market selection (which were crab cakes the day I was there). I went with a 1/3lb veggie.

2) Choose a Cheese. I love the options here. Danish Blue Cheese, Sharp Provolone, Brie. I went with Horseradish Cheddar cuz I loves me some spice.

3) Choose up to 4 Toppings. For me, grilled onions, roasted green chiles, roasted red peppers and organic mixed greens.

4) Choose a Sauce.  I opted for the Chipotle Aioli

5) Chose a Bun. Multigrain me.

Then you hand your homework in, at the counter of course, order any extras like fries or a drink, pay, take your number back to your seat and wait. I love that there are so many options on the menu. It means you could eat here scores of times and still invent new flavor combos or go with a big group and share several combos at once.

While waiting for my burger, my fries arrived.
The Counter Fries Close Up
I love a good french fry but sadly, these were not those. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t amazing. Even worse was the Heinz Ketchup lurking on every table.  I used it because I’m a ketchup-holic but I despised every bit of high fructose corn syrup. It boggles the taste buds that a place that would emphasize quality ingredients and even creative sauce concoctions for your burger wouldn’t include homemade ketchup or ketchup concoctions with your fries. Imagine: Chipotle Ketchup, Tamarind-Mandarin Orange Ketchup. Got flavors you think would be good? At the very least, how about just offering a good ketchup like Trader Joe’s organic or Whole Foods 365. They’re inexpensive, better tasting and NO corn syrup.
The Counter Interior
How many bottles of Heinz ketchup can you find in the picture above? (The winner will receive a bottle of Heinz Ketchup)
I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers and too many of them are sorry soy patties masquerading as a meat burger. Veggie burgers are no substitute for meat. Never will be. So I want and expect them to taste like what they’re made of: vegetables. And that’s exactly what The Counter’s veggie burger looks and tastes like. Behold people of Earth, I give you (cue angelic choir), my custom veggie burger.

The Counter Veggie Burger
The Counter Veggie Burger

Let’s go in for a closer look.  It’s big. It’s well made with real veggies, big caramelized onions, red peppers and green chiles. There’s a hemi under that hood.
As for the taste, the burger is everything I wanted it to be. The onions are slightly sweet and the bun is nutty but it’s the cheese and aioli sauce that really made this burger sing and are two of the many reasons I’ll be going back to The Counter, hopefully this time with friends…and my own ketchup.
The Counter on Urbanspoon

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