Roughly three years ago, a man named Even Turner had a dream of opening a Greek restaurant. Everyone told Even he was crazy, everyone except a chef named William Wright.
“The real reason I decided to push for it was because it was interesting to me,” said William Wright, Executive Chef. Before I got into cooking I was studying anthropology. But I dropped out of that and went to culinary school instead because that was closer to my interest. But I promised myself that I would still try and focus on and learn about different aspects of the world. So this idea was cool to me because I got to learn about the culture while also learning about the food.”
This mutual love for Greek Culture and food was the foundation of the success of Helen Greek Food and Wine in The Village. It wasn’t until later that the idea of expanding to the Heights came about.
“The two restaurants have slightly different menus,” said Wright. “The one in The Village is more experimental and sort of pushing the limits of what people think of when they think of Greek food. While the one in the Heights is more iconic Greek cuisine and comfort food.”
I went to Helen in the Heights this past weekend to get a taste of Greece. The first thing I noticed as I walked in, was that my flip flop and T-shirt attire may have been a little too casual for the classy atmosphere. However, I did not feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable at all, as the greeters quickly greeted me, shook my hand, and sat me down at the bar.
I had the pleasure of trying two meze style dishes, the Cheese Saganaki and the Spiced Meatballs.
The first dish to come out was the Cheese Saganaki, with a side of pita bread. The dish was splendid and would work well as an appetizer for a larger table rather than just one person. Being a cheese fanatic myself, the experience was exciting as it showed me a whole different side and texture of cheese I have never tried before.
“The cheese used is halloumi cheese, which is made from goat milk,” said Beverage Director Josh Bearden. “The cheese is thrown on the grill ever so quickly, and the liquid that renders out of the cheese is what’s mostly in there. Right before it comes to you, we will dress it with ouzo, and the ouzo is what gives it that sweet flavor. It is served with the side of pita bread because some people like to spread it on the bread, but, I myself, just eat it straight.”
I tried both ways of eating with and without the pita bread and found it to be more flavorful without the pita but more filling with.
The next dish to come out was the Spiced Meatballs. The meatballs were one of the most savory and flavorful foods I have had in a while. They are made with slow cooked lamb meat and were spiced with roasted garlic and toasted cumin. I would highly recommend this dish as a personal entrée for an individual or as an appetizer for a couple.
With my meal I was served a cocktail drink called Tears of Chios, which is made with a Greek liqueur called Skinos Mastiha. The Mastiha is made from the sap resin that drips from trees found only on the Greek island of Chios. The drink was minty and flavorful, and had an interesting yet wonderful contrast with the savory meal I was scarfing down.
“We named the restaurant Helen Greek Wine and Food because of the way wine and food naturally go together,” said Wright. “But getting cocktails to go with food is much more difficult. So Josh has worked hard to create cocktail drinks that work well with the food.”
Bearden explained his science behind the cocktail menu.
“Classic cocktails typically have two ounces of a high spirit in them, meaning the drink you’re having with your food is about 30% alcohol. That in itself can make a drink extremely overwhelming and cause it to clash with the food. And so at this restaurant we focus on what’s most important and that is full experience of the food with the drink rather than the drink by itself. And Greek food in particular has a lot of flavor, so I needed to make a menu that was going to tone down the alcohol and focus on the taste. So that’s how the recipe for drinks like the Tears of Chios were inspired.”
The entirety of the menu, from the food to the wine to the cocktails, is all focused on authentic Greek recipes. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone wanting to have a taste of the Greek life. Get a taste of the Greek life at Helen in the Heights.