Part of the reason we go to restaurants is for the service. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like cooking and want someone to prepare us a meal. Other times, we appreciate someone bringing our food out to us, cleaning the dishes, and all the other niceties that go into enjoying eating out. What constitutes going beyond? What is the extra step?
The first time MG and I tried Elia Taverna was a Sunday afternoon. It is a small place located in a small strip. It had begun receiving attention from the locals, but was not a phenomenon at that particular time. We were there around lunch hour, but the place only had a few tables filled.
For starters, we got the Skordalia ($4.95). It’s basically garlic laden mashed potatoes. MG was fond of it, but it did nothing for me.
The Dolmadakia ($7.95) were pretty good (more often referred to as “Grape Leaves”). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had them warm before. Most places make them well beforehand and serve them cold. MG doesn’t eat them, so she passed, but I enjoyed the dish.
I got the most standard of Greek/Turkish/Middle Eastern fare for my entree, a gyro ($6.95). It was nice, but ultimately, bland. The meat was properly cooked, the other fillings were fresh, but there was nothing that set it apart or that would make me say, “When you go to Elia, be sure to have the gyro.”
MG got a Chicken Gyro sandwich ($6.95). She was equally unimpressed. Once again, it was properly made, but there wasn’t much else.
Alongside our sandwiches we got Ellinikes Patates Tiganites ($5.50). They are round french fries topped with some lemon, garlic, and cheese. They tasted nice, but lacked the crispness that I usually enjoy in my fried potato. The cheese didn’t really add much to the flavor, but the lemon was a nice touch.
Eh… we were going to chalk it up to a place that was alright, but ultimately uninspired. We were, until we got talking to the owner and the other customers.
First, the owner: When we were done with our meal, he asked if we were having dessert. We declined, but he stated that he had made Loukoumades ($4.95) for a friend’s birthday and we simply had to try some. They are normally not available on the weekends.
What he brought us could only be accurately described as a boatload. They were incredible, puffy, airy, and drizzled with honey. Warm, fresh, and oh so delicious, MG and I were both groaning after every bite. Maybe the meal was a miss, but the dessert was a bonafide, knocked-out-the-park home run. Goodness gracious, these things were good. MG and I were both stuffed, but we couldn’t help tucking in bite after wonderful bite. “Just jump up and down to make room.”
Second, the other customers: There was a couple seated next to us that asked us if it was our first time. We said, “Yes.” They proceeded to give us recommendations for our next visit. Someone raving about a restaurant they enjoy is not unusual. However, when they do it unsolicited to a perfect stranger, it is something to notice. More important was not that they were raving, but the way they were raving about certain dishes. To summarize, they had been going to Elia since it opened and though they enjoyed certain dishes, they were forcing themselves to work their way through the menu to try everything since everything they had was so good. WHAT?!? That is about as glowing a recommendation as is possible. That day, they were having an octopus dish that looked very intriguing.
Alright, I guess I’ve got to give this place one more shot.
The next time we went was for dinner, and the spot was packed. They had just finished renovating additional seating space to handle the nighttime/weekend crush. When time came to be seated, we were shown to our tables by the owner, who remembered us from the last time (well over a month earlier). Bonus points on service.
Last time, the pita did not tickle my fancy. I thought it best to order something that is eaten with a fork. MG agreed.
I went with the Arni Kokkinisto ($17.95), described by the menu as “Lamb Braised in Homemade Tomato Sauce with Orzo”. AMAZING!!! If you like lamb at all, if you are curious about lamb, if you’ve had lamb once and think that maybe/perhaps/possibly you might have it again, GET THIS DISH! The lamb was fall of the bone tender and so savory my lips are currently pursed and my tongue is rolling just writing the description. The orzo was tender and wonderful. The tomato sauce was not acidic in the slightest. It is nothing like a marinara, but more like a “Welcome in from the cold” stew sauce. The portion is incredibly generous with two large hunks of lamb and plenty of orzo. I cannot recommend it enough.
I was stunned that there was a such a night and day difference between this and the gyro. While I thought that the gyro was uninspired, this was clearly a carefully prepared dish that must be the result of multiple years of cooking. It was outstanding.
MG got an item off the evening’s specials, Kotopoulo ($16.95) described as grilled chicken accompanied by cous-cous salad with raisin, onions, and olive oil. It was equally outstanding and she was equally as enamored as I. The chicken was perfectly cooked with nice char marks on the outside. The cous-cous is slightly tart, but has a rich flavor that makes you rub your tongue along the roof of your mouth after every bite trying to determine the exact spices. Eventually, you give up and just continue to devour and enjoy every mouthful, not wanting the experience to end.
I’ve been to restaurants that I thought were “OK” and returned later to find it a little better than before. I’ve been to restaurants that I thought were good who because of inattention or poor service become lousy. In either direction, the changes usually been small. I have never experienced such a change of initial opinion as I have with Elia.
MG and I went back another time, but unlike the other couple, we could not bring ourselves to try another dish. I went for the Arni Kokkinisto again, and since the Kotopoulo was back on the specials board, MG went with that again. Once again, it was spectacular.
It goes to show, if customers are treated well, it can be the difference between “Ahhh… I don’t know about that place,” and “Let’s give it another shot; maybe they’ve got something there.”
Elia Taverna does brisk weekend business. I recommend making reservations or going for lunch.
502 New Rochelle Road
Bronxville, NY 10708