Size doesn’t always matter. Americans have had it drilled into our heads from the time we were kids that bigger is better and more magical. You’ll never be asked if you want less fries with that; no one is ever impressed with how small your car is; and plastic surgeons aren’t getting rich cutting cartoonishly large body parts down to average size. We believe that if small is good, then huge will be even better, and if I don’t have a big one, how can I possibly compete with my neighbor?
When it comes to cooking, I often hear the complaint that someone’s kitchen is just too small to “really cook” in. The implication being that unless you have been blessed with a nice long countertop and a huge dangling exhaust hood, the best you can do is heat up a can of Spaghetti-O’s or microwave a Hot Pocket. This couldn’t be further from the truth and Mykonos Greek Grill, located at 808 Market St., can show you just how much can be done with a very small space.
Mykonos is one of those little places that hides in plain sight. Tucked into in a tiny space right next to the Miller Plaza stage between Subway and Bleacher Bums, Mykonos serves up heaping portions of some of the best Greek and Middle Eastern food in the city out of a kitchen with all the square footage of an airplane bathroom. When you visit, be prepared to eat your lunch at one of the plaza or pavilion tables because Mykonos is take-out only. Also be prepared to watch the inadequacies you feel about your own small kitchen shrink up like a scared turtle as owner Mike Asaba serves 100-plus lunch orders a day off of a small tabletop double burner and tabletop grill.
The food, like the owner, is a mixture of Greek and Middle Eastern with a menu that reflects that blend. For many folks, the differences between Greek and Middle Eastern food are difficult to sort out, especially when it comes to the ubiquitous gyro/schwarma/doner dish. Although this is a bit of an oversimplification, these are essentially different words to describe the same preparation of meat. Gyro is the Greek word, doner is the Turkish word and schwarma is the Arabic word that is used to describe a similar preparation of spit-roasted and thinly sliced meat. The type of meat used depends on the region. Pork is common in Greece, but you usually won’t find pork doner or schwarma, and lamb, beef and chicken are found in all three regions. The gyro at Mykonos is thinly sliced lamb that has been prepared and spiced so that the flavor of the lamb is mild yet flavorful thanks to the complimentary aromatics and vegetables it is served with. The gyro, among other dishes at Mykonos, is served with their signature tzatziki sauce. Asaba keeps the ingredients secret, but it’s still a traditional yogurt-based sauce that tastes much better than the version served up by the sauces namesake restaurant down the road.
Rather than limit myself to one particular dish I like to get a combination plate with falafel, gyro, baba ghanoush and hummus. Repeat that three times into a mirror and Robert Tilton will appear and lay hands on you.
As a Southerner, it is easy to love falafel and I love Mykonos’ falafel. It’s fried, it’s beans and it’s fun to say—fa-la-ful. Dip these little patties of fried goodness in Mykonos’ tzatziki sauce and prepare to become addicted. Baba ghanoush and hummus are both dips or spreads that originated in the Middle East. Baba ghanoush is made with roasted eggplant and has a slightly smoky and nutty flavor, while hummus is a dip made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, lemon and seasonings (tahini is just ground sesame seeds—a bit like peanut butter, but with much less fat and sugar). What’s not to love about a good bean dip?
Whatever you order at Mykonos you are going to waddle away from the meal with a belly full of comestibles and change left in your pocket. A typical order will easily stuff a three-compartment to-go container with enough food to feed Anne Burrell and her hair. The best part is that you don’t have to dip into the kids’ college fund to pay for it.
Check out Mykonos the next time you’re downtown for lunch and don’t complain about how small your kitchen is. Bigger isn’t necessarily always better.
Visit Mike McJunkin’s Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes.