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Friends Too
***
Out of a possible five
$

Greek fare spot-on at Friends Too

During a time when many restaurant owners are struggling to keep their tables full and their doors open, Nikos and Ana Hatzigeorgiou are expanding their business.

Their authentic Greek recipes gained a following at their first venture, Friends, at Dupont and Lima roads, in a somewhat hidden location. But now, just two years later, they have opened their second restaurant, Friends Too, at a location on West Jefferson Boulevard that is not only noticeable, but in a part of town where competition is tough.

Those same Greek favorites are on the menu at this beautifully revamped former Arby’s location. It looks nothing like its predecessor with its stone-embossed exterior and interior featuring a beautiful cherry wood ceiling with matching tables and padded chairs. The upscale setting is pleasant, and the only real drawback came from an open kitchen entryway that allowed the banging of pots and pans to echo throughout the main dining room.

If Nikos is there, which is most of the time, he will ensure that you are well taken care of by his staff if not by himself as he meanders about visiting tables and doing what he does best.

But during one visit, he was not around and there were some oversights: Orders were not taken promptly; they were out of rolls and the appetizers; and salads and entrees all arrived within minutes of one another, cramming the table full and forcing diners to rush so the food did not get cold.

But the oversight that bothered me the most was that I was not given a rousing “Opa” when my saganaki was lit. Nikos’ voice bellows throughout the restaurant when he lights the brandy on the kefalograviera cheese appetizer into a ball of flame. When he was missing, no one said a word. The cheese was still creamy and delicious, but it just wasn’t the same without the “Opa.”

The lamb souvlaki and dolmades – stuffed grape leaves – had me wanting to shout out in celebration. The dolmades were stuffed with a mix of rice and ground beef that was still slightly pink and rare, and it also had a touch of mint in it, which gave it a light, fresh flavor that really played off the bitter leaves and the tangy egg-lemon sauce that coated the rolls. The lamb kabobs did not have as many layers of flavor, but Nikos’ light seasoning touch allowed the moist, succulent lamb to really shine. He uses just a little salt, pepper and oregano, but not too much oregano, which he said is the key.

His deft touch was also present in the charbroiled octopus appetizer. The meaty chunks of octopus were perfectly prepared and super tender. Lemon was squeezed over the octopus, which sat in a pool of olive oil that was streaked with purple from the cephalopod. It was enjoyable but actually needed more seasoning – perhaps oregano or, even better, a little fleur de sel to cut the lemon.

The Greek and house salads were hefty and could easily be meals of their own. I went for the Greek first with its chopped beet and pineapple along with a generous amount of crumbled feta over a fresh, diverse mix of greens, onions, tomatoes, black olives and croutons. With its zesty, herb-packed Greek dressing, I didn’t think a salad could be better, until I had the house salad at Friends. The same fresh greens included red onion, tomatoes and croutons, but the feta was replaced with shredded cheddar.

Not all of the food was so favorable.

I had high hopes for the rotisserie chicken, thinking Nikos’ mix of spices would be great on a slow-roasted bird. But the chicken came out bland and the skin was rubbery and lifeless, as if it had been baked instead of browned on a rotisserie.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, the meat under that skin was dry and overcooked, making the dish nearly inedible. I was also put off when the server who brought it said my baked potato would not be ready for about five more minutes and then asked, “Is that OK?” What if I had answered no? Would they have served me a raw potato?

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking shrimp saganaki would be even better than the regular saganaki. This dish consists of shrimp in a red, tomatoey sauce topped with feta. The sauce was thick and sort of pasty, and the feta just melted into it and kind of got lost. I was also troubled by strings of what appeared to be beef roast mixed in the sauce.

Friends Too offers a braised beef dish with chunks of beef in a tomato sauce, so I assumed the base for the shrimp saganaki was drawn from it. Regardless, I did not want the beef with my shrimp.

The braised beef was OK with its tangy sauce and hearty beef, but I would order it over rice instead of noodles next time. I assumed those noodles would be egg noodles as they would be for stroganoff or beef and noodles, but it was instead spaghetti, which just didn’t work well.

And, although I enjoyed the gooey, flaky baklava I had for dessert, it too had a little something extra I did not care for. A dining companion had a slice of cherry-topped cheesecake, and my baklava was dotted with some of the same cherry sauce that was used on the cheesecake, as well as a scoop of whipped cream. The whipped cream I could handle even though I would never ask for it, but the cherry clashed with the nutty, honey-soaked dessert.

Although I have had good luck at Friends, some of the offerings and service issues at Friends Too were not welcomed. But I am not going to let that sway me from making a return trip because I know if I just stick to the Greek basics, it will be worth it.

Restaurant: Friends Too

Address: 3720 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 755-0894

Hours: 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Greek

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: None

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Saganaki ($7.45), shrimp saganaki ($6.95), lamb souvlaki ($10.95), braised beef ($8.95), rotisserie chicken ($7.45), dolmades ($9.95), baklava ($2.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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