Le Eats, C’Est Chic At New Highlandtown Spot
Specials are usually delivered in first-person plural, occasionally in a weird first-person singular: “I have a baked trout tonight.” At Mylos, a very encouraging new Greektown restaurant, our waitress announced the specials like this: “She made beef with orzo, Greek meatballs, and fried liver. And she also has red snapper, codfish, and stuffed peppers.”
This wasn’t enforced tableside marketing, it was just the natural way the waitress thought about Mylos’ food—made all on premises, with good ingredients, by someone who knows her way around a kitchen. This charmed and excited us about the meal. It also made us gravitate more toward the specials than is typical in a reviewing dinner. If what we had isn’t available when you show up, however, some specials equally pleasing are likely to be.
Mylos doesn’t grab you as a place where good cooking is going on. It’s clean and cozy, brightened by patriotic blue-and-white paint, civilized with a few hanging plants. It looks and feels as much like a Highlandtown corner bar as a sit-down restaurant. Hardly anyone else was there except a few folks at the bar. It’s the kind of place where stray restaurant paraphernalia collect on unused tables.
Even the printed menu reads like something you’d find at a corner bar or an old-fashioned Greek diner. As it turns out, owners Nick Giorgakis and his mother (the “she” of the specials), Popi, are veterans of the Towson and Nautilus diners, and some of the everything-goes flavor of those places is maintained here. Hence the chicken fingers and zucchini sticks, the chicken parmigiana and shrimp marinara, and such everyday Greek fare as moussaka, pastitsio, and souvlaki. (The menu also offers burgers, gyros, and other low-priced sandwiches.)
We dove headlong into the Greek food, choosing appetizers from the regular menu. Anything would taste like bliss on the slices of dense homemade Greek bread that’s brought to the table. Something particularly wonderful to slather on them is the red-roe caviar dip known as taramasalata ($3.50), which here has the richness of cream cheese but a light and silky finish. The roe flavor is nuanced and mild. Also worth spreading, or eating simply by the forkful, is the saganaki ($5.50), broiled, brandy-laced cheese dish that’s set aflame at the table; it’s made with, typically, kasseri cheese and, at Mylos, with two other cheeses the proprietors declined to divulge. The first few bites are overwhelmed by alcohol effects, but after that luscious comfort took over, with strong and sour cheese flavors and gooey, clumpy mouth pleasure.
Determining whether or not restaurant food is homemade isn’t a tricky judgment call at Mylos. The spanakopita ($4.50) easily splits up three ways, and its flaky turnover shell and warmly seasoned spinach-and-feta interior reveal a personal chef’s touch. This pie, with a side salad, could easily make a filling meal, but unlike its commercial—and sodden—imitators, it didn’t weigh us down. Best of all among the appetizers is the fried calamari ($8.95), an absolute contender for the city’s best. The coating is seasoned modestly with salt, pepper, and pretty parsley, and the perfect Olympic rings of very tender squid are pan-fried to a beautiful golden crispness.
Our special entrées were further testaments of patient home cooking and cost only minutely more than your own mother would charge you. Keftedakia ($9.95), Greek meatballs, looked almost too well done but were light, with the slightest crunch to their exterior, the meat seasoned carefully, unbothered by cloying sauce. The accompanying orzo was firm and tasty, sprinkled with carrots and parsley. Stuffed peppers ($9.95) looked ready for a cookbook photographer, two sturdily sculpted towers of thin-skinned, brown-roasted pepper, filled with tasty ground beef, rice, and a tomato sauce that, again, was happily not too sweet. Something sold simply as beef with orzo ($9.95)—aka moshari yiouvetsi—is a Sunday-casserole dish in which the cinnamon-seasoned beef shreds apart like a favorite pot roast. Its flavors have that slow-cooked depth, too.
Desserts at Mylos are homemade, too, and huge. The phyllo layers of a walnut-studded baklava ($2.95) slice with a fork. The less-familiar bugatsa ($2.95), a custard-filled pastry, was baked, we were told, only hours before we arrived and tasted so. And because we were for the most part the evening’s only diners, it heightened the illusion that Popi Giorgakis was serving us what she’d make her own family. It’s an illusion you should try to re-create.