We here in whitebread northern Baltimore County get all excited over any ethnic restaurants that venture above the Beltway, but, alas, many brave new foreign eateries either suck or close fairly quickly after opening here in the hinterlands. Grapevine Café is outstanding and we hope it has a long, happy tenure despite its obscure location off York Road and behind a mattress store. The owners have wisely larded the menu with lots of crowd pleasers such as steaks and crab cakes, but the Greek dishes are what draws us. The calamari ($8) is just perfect: tender, tender squid in a crisp, light batter that shatters at the touch of a fork. Spanakopita ($6) is clearly freshly made; Grapevine's rendition gives less phyllo than the usual version, but it's just the right amount of insanely buttery puff pastry to complement the earthy spinach and salty cheese filling.
We've been eating cold, dense dolmades off the Wegman's olive bar for so long we had forgotten how good good ones can be: Grapevine's dolmades ($7) are subtly spiced beef mixed with rice, wrapped in a tender grape leaf, and then topped with a lovely, lemony bechamel sauce. Even simple tzatziki ($5), the ubiquitous cucumber/yogurt/garlic dip, excels. We can go on and on, but the point is that someone in Grapevine's kitchen is paying attention and turning out simple dishes made carefully from stellar ingredients. This is the heart and soul of Mediterranean food, but too many Greek cooks check this style of cooking when they pass through U.S. customs, apparently trading it in for mealy food-service tomatoes and shoe-leather gyro meat. So good luck and go for it, Grapevine. Great food and that daily 11-7 happy hour oughta do it.