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Belly Up

Real-World Greek

Good Food, Great Prices, and Lamb Guts

Karpathos

This location is closed

By Susan Fradkin | Posted 11/17/1999

Here's a menu-slogan suggestion for you: "You'll Always Get Your Money's Worth." It's down to earth, grammatically correct, and absolutely true, to judge by my experience at Karpathos (4712 Eastern Ave., [410] 522-4922), another great Greektown hole-in-the-wall.

Don't expect some grand, elegant dining room. Ambiance here is nil. When I arrive with my pal Dena, we see five tables, several chain-smoking men, and a corner television blaring the news in the language of Socrates. Every 20 minutes, the patriarch from the Greek Orthodox Church across the street sweeps in, his long gray cassock brushing the floor, to grab a smoke and a cuppa before jogging back to the sanctuary.

"What's good here?" Dena asks after we sit down. "What do people order?"

"The fish," our server says without hesitation.

"But I don't see fish on the menu," I say, having quickly scanned our paper bills of fare and the hand-lettered one on the wall.

"It's not on the menu," our server says. As if that explained anything.

"Then how do people know to order it?" I say.

"Well, he just knows," she says, shrugging toward the fellow cooking in the back. "When Stavros comes in, he likes rock. Nik wants porgies."

"Is there a fish back there named Susan?" I ask.

"Sure," she laughs, and lets us know about the nightly special, Greek-style beef.

We start by sharing a Greek salad ($3.75), which includes a mountain of lettuce, green pepper, olives, cukes, onions, tomatoes, and a 3/4-pound slab of feta dressed in a tasty vinaigrette. Our server brings bread—one loaf in a basket for Dena, another loaf for me.

My whole pan-fried fish ($10, and I never learn its name), is crisp and succulent. The platter also contains tomato wedges, cucumber slices, and lots of lemon.

"Here," the server says, "want me to fix it for you the way the guys like it?" She anoints the fish with olive oil, squeezes five or six lemon wedges over it, and lets me taste. Apparently, the guys have excellent taste—the oil and lemon make the fish moist, rich, and almost creamy. (I notice a guy in the corner giving his bowl of split-pea soup the same treatment. He crumbles his entire loaf of bread over the soup too, as a finishing touch.)

Dena's special arrives—three big beef ribs braised with carrots and onions, a bowl of white rice, and another bowl filled with fresh okra cooked in tomato sauce. (Forget your nightmarish childhood okra flashbacks—you'll love this.) The aromatic meat falls off the bones, and even though Dena and I share the rice and the okra, we hardly put a dent in them.

I ask our server if Karpathos ever offers lamb. Oh yes, she says, it's frequently a weekend special.

"How is it prepared?"

"Oh, roast, baked, braised. He cooks it all ways. We can make you a platter, you know, some of each kind on the plate."

I'm drooling now. I'm also wondering how I can fit lunch at Karpathos into my schedule. I'd like to try the signature sandwich—mortadella, provolone, and salami, grilled ($2). I've already asked our server about the only menu item written on the wall in Greek, not English. Whatever it is, it goes for four bucks.

"Lamb guts," our server explains. "You boil 'em up, chop a whole onion on top, sprinkle on lemon juice, and then you just chew and chew and chew." I'm guessing it won't be big with tourists.

We have no room left for dessert, but to go with strong, 50-cent cups of coffee, we try a slice of store-bought apple pie ($1.50), which our server heats for us. She then disappears behind the counter for a few minutes and returns carrying a large platter filled with freshly cut watermelon and cantaloupe.

"Compliments of us," she says, indicating the kitchen. We thank her, nod our thanks to the man in the kitchen and, stifling a groan, dig in. The fruit is delicious. We feel bad we can't manage more than a few bites apiece.

Not to worry. Our wonderful server packs the fruit and the rest of the leftovers, including a loaf of bread. The bill comes to $24.75, before tip, and we are toting enough food for several more meals. Did we get our money's worth? You do the math.

Open 8:30 A.M.-midnight daily.

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