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Dining Out: Olive Branches

One’s Greek, one’s Turkish, and never the twain shall meet. But two smart neighborhood spots bring out the glory of their hallowed Mediterranean ground.

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The BYO charm of Mythos


Once, in a Greek restaurant, a gruff waiter asked me if I wanted Greek or Turkish coffee. Sensing a trap, I meekly asked him what the difference was. He grunted, “There isn’t any.” Greece and Turkey have always been at loggerheads historically, but their Mediterranean cuisines have much in common, especially an emphasis on vegetables, yogurt, and other healthful ingredients. My two subjects this month, Mythos and Turquoise, both do their homelands proud.

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You might think you’ve found the mythical great mom-and-pop neighborhood restaurant in Mythos. Close. It’s really sister and sister. Toni Di Meola runs the dining rooms, powered by pats on the back, and her sib Vicky Zervas is the chef who may come by and ask quietly how you like her Greek home cooking. You’ll try to say, “Just fine,” but your mouth will be full.

The two small rooms are Mediterranean blue, framing coral-colored banquettes and white-clothed tables with black napkins. This stretch of Montrose feels nothing like the sprawling hubbub of Greektown, and that’s the whole idea. Still, expect crowds here, too: The flavors are familiar, but the made-to-order food is superior to the fare on South Halsted. And it’s BYO. So many people bring wine that there was a shortage of wineglasses on one Saturday visit.

First hint that you’re not in Opaahville: insanely fresh standards like yogurt/cucumber tzatziki and thick carp roe taramo-salata purée. Then there are terrific starters such as kolokytho keftedes—fried zucchini and cheese patties served with skordalia (potato and garlic spread). For sheer pleasure, though, honors go to the dense orange-and-anise-scented pork, beef, and lamb loukanika (sausages). Charbroiled octopus, though, was a dud: once, the texture of old boots, and another time slightly newer boots. A vegetable of the day comes with entrées—long-cooked green beans with tomatoes and onions on one visit—plus rice pilaf or roasted potatoes. No one’s going hungry.

Both the menu and Di Meola tout the pastitsio, served in individual casseroles. This Greek classic owes a lot to Italy: A layer of macaroni with Parmesan Romano is topped with a layer of Black Angus ground beef, sauced Bolognese-style, then a layer of béchamel before baking. It’s got a touch of nutmeg to it—very rich, and Chicago’s best.

Grecian chicken breast is never this moist, but the one at Mythos, marinated in olive oil, lemon, and oregano before charcoal grilling, certainly is. Psaronefri is another standout—pork tenderloin charbroiled with pepper, rosemary, and sea salt, served with homemade mustard sauce. And you can’t go wrong with garides giouvetsi—black tiger shrimp cooked in a chunky sauce of tomatoes, red peppers, and onions finished with feta cheese and served on rice pilaf. The best dessert is revani, a semolina flour and egg cake flavored with lemon and soaked in homemade honey syrup. It’s a 40-year-old recipe from the sisters’ mother, who still summers in their hometown: Athens.


Photograph: Kendall Karmanian

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