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Review

Clearwater's Greektown Grille has a winning formula

Greektown proves its authenticity with Octopodi Skaras, octopus grilled with Greek seasoning and drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Greektown proves its authenticity with Octopodi Skaras, octopus grilled with Greek seasoning and drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

CLEARWATER — The owners of Greektown Grille don't seem to put much stock in the Greek myth of Icarus. You know, young guy, feeling full of himself and pretty jazzed about his wax-and-feather wings, flies too close to the sun. His story is supposed to be a cautionary tale about aiming too high, being overambitious. Walk before you run, look before you leap, that kind of thing. • Open since the beginning of August, this newcomer is aiming high right out of the starting gate. A huge menu of traditional Greek dishes is served in a gorgeous earth-tone dining room, outdoors on a wide patio, and in a lovely banquet room that doubles as a dance club on the weekends with live "new Greek" music. • Restaurant veterans, the Karamountzos family (father Sam, mother Vicki, daughter Elene and son Peter) has the assurance to think big. Already, the kitchen has found its groove, the service team works like an oiled machine and Clearwater has a winner on its hands.

This particular Grecian formula is one that relies equally on the kind of Greek food that Greek people like (lemony chargrilled octopus; $12, crispy fried smelts with a zippy pepperoncini sauce, $9) and the Greek food that non-Greeks like (moussaka, $10; pastitsio, $9; chicken pita, $8). You can expand your repertoire (like with a dessert called kantaifi, $4, a hedgehog tangle of phyllo shreds cradling walnuts and cinnamon) or stick close to the familiar (grilled baby lamb chops, $20, flavored gently with oregano and garlic).

Either way, there are few dishes unworthy of praise. One night's tomatoey stewed lima beans ($5) and bitter braised endive ($5) added up to a perfect vegetarian dinner with an order of simple hummus ($5) and warm pita. The pita is far from perfunctory; seasoned assertively and grilled briefly, it stands on its own, as do the grilled, seasoned bread rounds that come gratis at meal's start. These disappeared instantly alongside one evening's generous Greek salad ($6 small, $11 super large) or simpler horiatiki ($7, $13), basically a Greek salad minus the lettuce and the scoop of rich potato salad.

One of the more affordable yet absurdly generous (verging on obscene) dishes I've ordered in a long while: The traditional Greek platter ($14) brought enough nutmeg-spiked moussaka, bechamel-lush pastitsio, a phalanx of tangy dolmas (drizzled with a lemony cream sauce) and pile of shaved gyros to easily serve several people. All elements were hearty, tasty crowd-pleasers. Oh, and I forgot to mention the heap of herbed french fries. Whew.

In general, servings are big and prices are not (an express lunch is offered at $7 or $8); thus it's an obvious choice for a large family gathering, cemented by the array of big, unclothed tables, and servers who aren't afraid to call you "hon." That doesn't mean Greektown Grille is lacking in sophistication: With cloth napkins (increasingly, a rarity), a full bar with expert mixologists on hand, and lovely mosaic glass artwork to its credit, Greektown Grille compares favorably with many of Clearwater's long-standing favorites, or even those fabled Greek Olympians to the north in Tarpon Springs. Yes, in Tarpon you may find a better lamb shank or spanakopita here or there, but Greektown Grille has entered the local arena exhibiting real know-how, and that's no myth.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Greektown Grille

1230 Cleveland St.,
Clearwater, (727) 447-7800

Cuisine: Greek

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

Details: Amex, Visa, MC; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Appetizers $4 to $12, entrees $8 to $22, desserts $4 to $5

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★★ Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Thursday in Weekend: A preview of Orlando's Magical Dining Month

Key: Extraordinary ★★★★

Excellent ★★★ Good ★★ Fair ★

Clearwater's Greektown Grille has a winning formula 09/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 5:10pm]

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