Alice Eats: Aleka's
As wonderful and varied as Vermont's dining options are, sometimes I have to catch a ferry to get what I'm after. Plattsburgh is the closest place for me to get satisfactory Indian food — at Karma Indian Restaurant. Now I can add Aleka's as the across-the-lake place to fill the Greek hole in my soul.
The food at this restaurant, which opened last fall, reminded me of what I grew up eating in the New York City suburbs, where practically every convenience store had a kick-ass gyro.
Everyone with whom I interacted at Aleka's was exceptionally friendly. When I told my server that I'd seen a video online of the restaurant's chef making saganaki, she went into the kitchen to see if the crew could do the same for me, even though the sometime special wasn't on the menu that day.
As you can see, at right, the answer was yes. The flaming cheese may have set off the fire alarm, but the result was well worth it. Made with a goat-and-sheep cheese called kefalogaviera, the dish had a more complex, barnyard flavor than more common kasseri. Flambéed with ouzo, the dish had a hint of licorice flavor, which balanced well with a pair of sundried tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon. I continued to spread the hot cheese onto warm pita triangles until the edges were crisped by the still-hot pan.
I'll certainly be back for that saganaki, but will first try the Cypriot version of the dish that owner Peter Kritziotis says he also offers off-menu. That one is made with firm, grill-seared halloumi, lemon and fresh herbs.
The Greek steak recalled the Roumanian ones I loved as a kid, but better. The lean but tender flatiron steak was cooked exactly to my requested medium. But unlike the plain steaks of my childhood, this was topped with feta, garlic and a butter filled with fresh herbs. A squeeze of lemon on both meat and well-seasoned, parsley-topped rice made the dish sing. I tried not to eat the whole thing, but failed.
The souvlaki pita was initially less of a success. At first, it came to us with the pork so undercooked it was potentially dangerous. But once we informed the waitress, we were presented with a well-cooked replacement in just a few minutes.
The souvlaki marinade was slightly different than the lemon-drenched version I'm used to. Red with paprika, the pork was still herbaceous and delicious, but acid came instead from the simple-but-flavorful tzatziki and chopped tomatoes stuffed into the pita.
We upgraded from regular fries on the side to Greek fries, a fine choice. The ultra-crisp potatoes were exceptional on their own, but topped with feta, dried oregano and tangy red-wine vinegar, they were irresistible.
I would have been happy to have a plate of those for dinner and call it a night, but along with the souvlaki being removed from our bill for the early fumble, we were also presented with a free serving of baklava.
I always say I don't really like baklava, then find myself liking it more than I expect. This version of the dessert didn't taste like baklava to me. It took all the gooey, aromatic triggers of a cinnamon roll and re-imagined them in a flaky pastry. Maybe it was the caramel sauce, but I was very happy.
I took the ferry back to Vermont stuffed, thoroughly pleased and planning my next trip.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.