I have a freakishly good memory. My friends and family call me constantly with questions that begin with: “What was the name of that show…” As much as I often want to say, “That’s what Google is for, jackass!” I usually hold my tongue. My memory works in strange ways. It’s not normal things I remember, like where I spent the Fourth of July two years ago. It’s random, minute details of things that have no relevance, like the plants on my grandparents next door neighbor’s porch. I told you. Weird. Random. No relevance. Because of my eccentricity, I am big into nostalgia. There are certain foods, smells and places that trigger memories of my past and of course it is not coincidental that I mentioned food before smells and places.
If you grow up in Detroit (or a suburb of), you are programmed at an early age to develop an affinity for Greek food. I’m convinced it happens when you get your immunizations as a baby. Somewhere between Hepatitis B and Polio, the doctor slips in a syringe of tzatziki and pureed feta. Potential side effects are halitosis and gas, but they are both worth it.
For as long as I can remember, the go to breakfast/lunch/quick dinner spot was Leo’s Coney Island. As a child, I went there for the grilled cheese and pickles. As an adolescent, I went there for the grilled cheese and pickles, chili “Coney” fries and greek salad. Coney is the culinary equivalent of a worn in sweatshirt. It’s comfortable, consistent and a reminder of good memories. I don’t go to Michigan much anymore but when I do, I make sure there is a Coney salad waiting for me in my parents refrigerator. It is necessary for me to destroy it as soon as I walk through their door.
I have lived in Chicago for eight years. Seven out of those eight years were spent looking for a Greek salad comparable to Coney. No wonder it took me so long to find a job. It’s not that Chicago doesn’t have good Greek restaurants. I live for the spinach pie at Athenian Room. Eating an entire plate of skordalia at Greek Islands is worth it, even though I know the garlic will be seeping through my pores for three days afterward. Good, yes. Comparable, no. What I needed in my life, was a Greek diner, if you will. What I needed, was Coney.
A few years ago, a great miracle happened. A fellow Detroiter felt the same hunger pains for Greek salad and did me the service of opening up a Leo’s Coney Island, Chicago. It is not a fact that he did it for me but I’m putting two and two together. For a year or two, I was able to get my fix in Chicago and bathe in the Greek dressing anytime I wanted. Unfortunately, Leo’s ultimately closed and I was back to square one.
Then came George’s Hot Dogs. After moving to my new neighborhood, a friend gave me a list of casual restaurants in the area that delivered. George’s was her must for pita and Greek salad, so I gave it a whirl. There are a few key components that make a Greek salad Coney worthy:
1. Greek olives with pits
2. Feta cheese
4. Good dressing- This is perhaps the most important component and also the trickiest. Most of the Chicago Greek salads fall short in this category because their dressing is way too oily. You need a good balance of vinegar, olive oil and herbs so that it is slightly creamy with a tangy kick.
5. Chicken- This is also tricky. I like my chicken grilled, well done and marinated with a variety of herbs. The saltier the better.
6. Tomatoes- Wedges only, bright red with no mealiness whatsoever.
7. Pita- Grecian, warmed on the griddle with a hint of butter.
8. Tzatziki- Used as a second dressing and a dip for the pita.
9. Beets- Canned, sliced in disk shape
Amazingly, George’s managed to exceed my expectations. All of the ingredients are up to par and they give you two pitas! After my first salad, I immediately took my high school friend there to share the wealth. I now pick up George’s at least once a week and wish I could go more. I am craving it as I type right now. Their cheese fries aren’t half bad either. I guess I can make my spaghetti squash tomorrow night.