For more than a year, Mark Antonation ate his way up Federal Boulevard. With that journey done, he's now exploring different cuisines from around the globe right here in metro Denver, one month at a time, in Ethniche.
Last week I drove to the outlands of Lakewood for a taste of short-order Greek cooking. This week, I walked -- hitting Melita's Greek Cafe and Market, located about as close as it gets to the dead center of Denver. It was more of an amble than an odyssey, but the truncated trip yielded a pleasant lunch without having to sacrifice any of my men to mythical perils.
Melita's is more than just a grill, a cone of meat on a spit, and a crew of old guys slinging burgers and pita bread. It's a sunny cafe for breakfast or lunch, a mini-market with a few shelves full of Mediterranean canned and bottled goods, and a bar featuring Greek beer and wine as well as Greek-American bar food like Greek nachos and Greek pizza. Neither of those specialties really tips the scales in the same way that an All-American bar and grill could; they're just restrained configurations of Hellenic ingredients without the health-threatening absurdity typical of ethnic bar-food fusion.
While the gyros are outsourced (from Kronos this time), the spanakopita and baklava are made in-house, and it shows. Both feature light and flaky layers of filo dough covering spinach and egg or nut and honey fillings, respectively. Gyros in most parts of the country, as here, have become accepted as a style of processed meat; it's no more expected by customers to see housemade gyros cones turning in the rotisserie than it would be to see housemade hot dogs or cheese. Handled properly by the cooks at Melita's, the thin slices of lamb-beef mixture arrive soft, crisped around the edges and with just a tinge of something artificial -- MSG or sodium nitrite, or maybe a delicate blend of both. Some day I'll have to catalog the various brands of processed gyros into a kind of Michelin guide of conical meats.
The avgolemono soup that came with my spanikopita combo had a homey quality, with a big portion of rice and well-cooked shreds of chicken surfacing from the mildly tangy egg-thickened broth. On the whole, my lunch left an impression of freshness, even including the gyros platter, which came with a crisp salad and a thick and tangy tzatziki sauce.
The line at the counter was steady, the tables mostly full. Some customers lingered over their computers or smart phones before and after they ate, while others stopped to examine the canned goods on the shelves. It was lunch in the city on a summer work day -- nothing more or less. But the atmosphere in Melita's seemed just a little slower than on the sidewalk outside, a little less harried than the multiple lanes of northbound Lincoln. It didn't take a drink at the bar or a sporting event on TV to distract from the pressures outside, only a decent and honestly made meal.
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For more from our tour of Denver's cultural, regional and international restaurant scene, check out our entire Ethniche archive.