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Pita Village
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Greek spot worth stop with twists on tradition

All you needed was an ear to know what kind of restaurant this was.

“Opa! Welcome to Pita Village,” the staff shouted as I walked into the new Greek spot in Dupont Village on Dupont Road.

When my order was ready to be picked up, they screamed it again – “Opa, Ryan!” The menus were also dotted with the Greek celebratory phrase.

After eating at Pita Village, I, too, was ready to scream it because there were some great finds at this charming little eatery.

The moussaka was one of the best I have had. It was topped with a creamy, rich béchamel that was so thick it was almost like mashed potatoes. That topping had a cheesy flavor from Parmesan that went beautifully with the casserole’s mix of ground beef and lamb (80 percent beef to 20 percent lamb).

The meat was bursting with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano and parsley. The fried potato layer added heft, the eggplant layer was tender and it was simply perfection.

The same mix of meat was used to create the soutzoukakia (Greek meatballs). Two large meatballs were nestled in one of Pita Village’s soft pitas – yes, the pitas at the pita-named place were great – with lettuce, tomatoes and some of the restaurant’s tyrokafteri (spicy feta) spread, which was the real star.

Owner Leni Dodos Rich, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Bob, and her sister and brother-in-law, Victoria and George Naselaris, makes the spread by blending soft feta with roasted hot red peppers, a little olive oil, onions and garlic. It is available on its own and is something I will order a side of every time I eat there because it added zest to everything I smeared it on. The hummus was good, but not as unique as the spicy feta.

The most interesting – and somewhat scary – dish I had at Pita Village came from the Naselarises, who used to run a Greek restaurant in Rochester, N.Y., before retiring to Fort Wayne. The Village Garbage Plate included two jumbo all-beef hot dogs, french fries, macaroni salad and house meat sauce. Given the garbage I am used to here in the Summit City, I expected this to be all mixed up, which is what made it scary, but it wasn’t. It came divided on the plate with the sauce covering the dogs in the center.

The fries and the savory macaroni salad were standard issue, but the hearty dogs and that all-beef meat sauce, which had less spice than the meatballs and moussaka, was still pretty good.

I had fun with the dish and experimented with it a little to make something great. I put a hot dog on a pita with a smear of tyrokafteri, piled as much of that meat sauce and a little tzatziki on it, and – boom – Greek Coney dog.

The gyro at Pita Village packed a boom, too, due to the generous amount of meat on it and the gyro salad. I could have easily made three good-sized gyros out of one. The greens and veggies on the gyro salad and Greek side salad were fresh and crunchy, and there was plenty of feta on both, so I would not hesitate to try another salad in the future.

Only one soup was worthy of ordering again. The spicy lentil had a dark, murky broth with diced red pepper, some visible herbs and what tasted like a good amount of black pepper. It was a stick-to-your-ribs good and pretty spicy. The avgolemono (lemon-rice), however, had a distinct sourness from the lemon, but really no other flavor. It was a bit watery, lacked basic seasoning and paled in comparison to other versions I have had.

I ordered spanakopita (spinach pies) and the Pita Zetta as appetizers. The latter was kind of a Greek pizza with an open-faced pita covered with feta cheese, artichoke and spinach heated until it was all melted and gooey. The spanakopita was worth getting, highlighted by its flaky phyllo dough wrapping.

That phyllo was also perfectly used to make Pita Village’s House Baklava dessert. With a generous amount of diced walnuts, just the right amount of sweet syrup and layer upon layer of that crispy dough, it was top-notch. It is made fresh on site, Rich said, and that made a big difference as most places have it shipped in and it becomes dense as it sits and the dough layers stick together. Greek cookies are also offered and, although they were good – dense, sweet and bread-like – they were not as good as the baklava.

Pita Village is the kind of place you order at the counter, pay and then wait for your name – and the “Opa!” – to be called, but the service was still stellar. Rich came to my table during both visits just to see how everything was. During one visit when she was out of spanakopita when I ordered, she came out as soon as a new batch was ready in case I still wanted some. All of Pita Village’s staff members checked on my party several times, helped remove empty plates and provided good tableside service. So you may just want to go ahead and hedge your bet and tip when you pay.

The plates were a bit of a problem when dining in. Pita Village uses paper plates and baskets. I think investing in some permanent table settings would be a good idea for in-house diners.

The atmosphere was clean and new with a blue and white paint scheme to mimic the Greek flag, an eye-catching mural of a harbor on one wall and sturdy, attractive wooden chairs and tables. There are only nine four-top tables in the eatery, along with a counter facing outward at the front window, so space is at a premium. This became noticeable when I felt like I was standing on top of some folks while getting drinks from a do-it-yourself fountain and fetching plastic flatware and napkins from a table next to that fountain.

Given the quality of food and service at Pita Village, however, I will gladly deal with the paper and plastic and just make sure to say “excuse me” when I refill my drinks the next time.

Restaurant: Pita Village

Address: 511 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 619-3604

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: Greek

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Hummus ($2.99), tyrokafteri ($2.99), soutzoukakia ($5.99), Pita Zetta ($4.99), Greek salad ($6.99; add $2.99 for gyro meat or chicken), Village Garbage Plate ($6.99), spanakopita ($6.99), gyro platter ($8.99), moussaka ($6.99), baklava ($2.49), cookies (99 cents)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (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. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.