The Little Greek
Old Metairie: 2051 Metairie Road, then 619 Pink Street.
You have to like Yiannis Skias, even when he comes across as a little crusty, declaring himself the world’s authority on how Greek food really should be cooked. (He shares this quality with all other Greek cooks.) You will let him get away with his doctrinaire pronouncements because he could actually deliver the goods. He did it at two locations of the Little Greek restaurant, then for a long time (and still, as far as I know) at the Mandeville Farmer’s Market every Saturday.
At first, Johnny (English for Yiannis) had the advantage of being married to a woman named Rosita, who was an even better cook than he was. Somewhere along the way, she left Johnny and opened her own excellent Mediterranean restaurant, the Odyssey Grill. (We’ll cover that in another Extinct Restaurant installment.)
The original Little Greek opened in the present location of Vega Tapas Café. That’s a slightly Greek place, and not the only coincidence. Between the Little Greek and Vega was yet another Greek café called Zissis. Despite all that, most New Orleanians have been only lightly exposed to Greek food. There have never been many Greek restaurants here.
The Little Greek was among the best. Johnny’s personality had a lot to do with that. He was famous among his regular customers for coming up to the table and telling them what to order. It was always good advice, especially when it involved food items you would not get on your own. The menu was full of unusual food, even as Greek menus go.
The place was better on some days than others. Yiannis occasionally ran offbeat specials. Now and then he’d roast a whole lamb, carving different parts of it day by day until it’s gone. He seemed forever to be pushing beets on you.
The flaky pastries made with phyllo, filled with cheese, spinach or even fillets of fish were terrific. Saganaki–a slab of white cheese sauteed with butter and lemon, then flamed at the table–was just the kind of show that Johnny loved to put on. Taramosalata, the Greek answer to caviar, was so good that all the restaurants that followed the Little Greek on Metairie Road kept it on the menu. (It’s the best starter at Vega to this day.)
The standards of everyday Greek eating were all there. Moussaka, souvlaki of many meats, and lamb in many forms were all excellent. The desserts ranged from light baklava to the lightest galaktoboureko.
Johnny ultimately had a falling out with his partners. He left with the name and reopened elsewhere on Metairie Road, in the former Delerno’s and present Sun Ray Grill location. His non-conformity continued, and even grew. He decided to open for breakfast, with the starting time being 6:28 a.m.
“If you tell somebody to be somewhere at seven, they think you mean ‘around seven,'” he explained. If you say 7:08, they show up at 7:08. Because it sticks in their minds.”
Johnny was always thinking.