“Uma, Oprah; Oprah, Uma” would have been “Yummo! Opa! Opa! Yummo!”
There. That little intro constitutes the only way I could think of to get away with using interjections I loathe—at least as uttered by slackmouthed Food Network lackeys and every metroschmo who ever walks into a Greek eatery, respectively—but which are nonetheless objectively appropriate to describe a place I officially adore. Pete’s Central One is one of the sunniest spots in town—decorwise, attitudewise & above all cuisinewise. Just look how bright & breezy:
Many customers are literally so into Pete’s that they start to spontaneously merge with the surroundings.
Score 1 for me, who suspected the Director would get a kick out of the place despite his insistence that he didn’t like Greek food because he doesn’t like olives, which seemed to me akin to deciding you don’t like rock&roll because you don’t like air guitar: just because it’s an integral part of the whole doesn’t mean it’s an automatically tangible one. Should you choose to ignore olives & air guitar in context, you can.*
I scored points 2 through 1 zillion just by ordering for us both & letting the offhandedly open-hearted staff, F&BOH, do the rest. When I asked the waitress for a single glass of retsina (of which more in a separate post) to pop the Director’s pine-wine-virginal cherry, she fetched a half-glass as a free sample instead.
Then she brought us the likes of these:
dip sampler, clockwise from top: taramosalata, skordalia, tyrokafteri
octopus: looks like I’m off the wagon until someone founds a Denver chapter of Cephalopodophiles Anonymous. We admit we are putty in their tentacles.
As a taramoslutta I was looking most mouthwateringly forward to the blend of bread-thickened blend of salmon roe, lemon juice & olive oil that, at its best, has the rare ability to render “salty” & “juicy” somehow synonymous. It turned out to be the sole disappointment of the evening; skimping on the defining ingredient, it lacked the mojo—the roejo—to pack its characteristic punch. I was roebegone. But then I tasted the tyrokafteri, which translates as “burning cheese” (what’s saganaki, then, chopped liver?), & was pleased as the punch I’d been denied by the taramosalata: the whipped-feta spread was alive & kicking thanks to, of all peppers, jalapeno, per our waitress. When in Colorado, I guess.
The skordalia, I fretted, looked a little dry & grainy, but didn’t taste that way: it tasted like everyone’s favorite leftover, cold mashed potatoes—less garlicky perhaps and more lemony than the standard version for a refreshing change.
Knowing this Pete fellow oversees quite the restaurant empire (his picture’s even on the hot-sauce bottle on the table, sort of the equivalent of ancient imperial coin), I’m still willing to bet he hasn’t got the monetary might to fly in daily shipments of fresh octopus. I’ve got no beef with frozen product provided it’s treated with care, however; here, it is, marinated to tenderness in the classic Greek vinaigrette—wine vinegar & olive oil that would strike me as too light in most contexts but always seems just right for a cuisine from a land that sparkles as cleanly as Greece seems to, at least in the usual views of the white-&-blue Aegean, plus lots of oregano.
After a while, though, I wasn’t sure if I was using the pita as a scoop for the stuff I’d ordered or the stuff I’d ordered as an excuse to put the pita to work as a scoop: thick yet light & fluffy, it was more like a warm, well-made pancake than the quasi-crackers supermarkets sell.
Nor was I sure what other, sturdier sort of scoop I could possibly employ to get the rest of the stuff I ordered down; full as I already was, I was thinking maybe gavage tube.
Especially as the entrees began to arrive—1st the avgolemono, a bit starchy but otherwise good, yolky & lemony & chock-full of chicken & rice:
then the garden salad with feta-&-pepper-speckled vinaigrette, as crisp & ripe as could be:
&, finally, my pastisio & the Director’s moussaka, accompanied by wedges of Texas toast—
both exemplary as showcases for luscious eggplant, al dente pasta, ground beef & tangy tomato sauce; these were genuine casseroles, not piles of béchamelized mush. (Too bad about those prepackaged mixed veggies, the only cut corner in an otherwise lovingly rounded meal.)
We were making ready to waddle out the door when the manager, I think, came over with shots of ouzo on the house—just the Lethean thing to make us forget we’d just force-fed ourselves like masochistic geese. Which means we’ll be back, quacking for more. But at least we won’t get fleeced (or rather plucked): all this plus a bottle of wine came to a measly $70.
*Unless you watch the ¡awesome! Air Guitar Nation, wherein the music really does start to seem secondary to the sweet & freaky mania it begets.