By LEEANNE GRIFFIN, Special To The Courant
The Hartford Courant
June 6, 2013
You don't have to go too far out of your way in the greater Hartford region to find a lamb gyro. Or baklava, or grape leaves. But if you're looking for Greek cuisine beyond standard pizzeria fare, the search takes a little more effort.
And that search may end at Cavos Tavern in Newington, where they're doing both: a full menu of pizza and grinders, coupled with real-deal dishes straight from Greece. The restaurant prides itself on its "recipes handed down generations."
The Vibe: Classic Greek taverna, with cozy tables and booths. Natural light fills the front dining room, decorated with photos and artwork honoring the old country. In the bustling open kitchen, gyro meat is shaved from a rotating spit onto fresh, soft pita bread and souvlaki skewers sizzle over a large grill.
A large patio provides warm-weather seating, and while the view of the hectic Berlin Turnpike doesn't exactly rival a vista of a caldera, it's set far enough back from the road for a relaxing alfresco meal. Lively Greek music completes the scene.
The Food: You'll find avgolemono, dolmathes, pikilia, tyrokafteri, marithaki, loukaniko and more. (If you can identify, pronounce and spell these delicacies, you likely grew up with a yiayia.)
The majority of Cavos' traditional dishes fall under the mezedes (appetizer) category, with tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce,) skordalia (potato garlic dip,) spanakopita (spinach pie,) gigantes (giant beans baked in tomato and dill) and bakaliaro (pan-fried bakalao cod).Mezedes range in price from $5 to $14. A Greek salad "horiatiki" eschews lettuce for the authentic mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, olives, cucumbers and blocks of feta.
Lamb dishes ($17 to $28) dominate the entrée selections, presented as chops, meatballs, souvlaki or roasted with tomato and orzo. Moussaka ($15,) another Greek favorite, layers potato, eggplant, meat sauce and béchamel in a rich casserole. Other seafood, chicken and vegetarian entrees ($10 to $21) span classic Mediterranean preparations, with lemon, capers, tomato and feta. A mixed grill plate ($28) gets you a little bit of everything, with tzatziki and pita and your choice of fries or rice.
Gyros and souvlaki pitas, with tomato, tzatziki and onions, are $8 to $10. If pizza is more your speed, enjoy your choice of toppings or a Greek-inspired pie with feta, gyro meat, olives and tomato. Ten-inch grinders, with hot and cold fillings, are $8.
You can easily make a meal of the mezedes, and that's what we did, selecting several to share. Keftedes (lamb meatballs) were moist and loaded with flavor, balanced by the cool and creamy yogurt sauce; lightly fried coins of zucchini matched perfectly with the earthy and luxuriously smooth skordalia. Pan-fried saganaki, a block of aged imported Greek cheese, is a delight for any cheese lover. Its bright, briny taste and crisped exterior is enhanced by a squeeze of fresh lemon. We asked for extra warm pita to scoop the spreads and sauces.
Confession: we splurged a bit on the market-price grilled octopus appetizer, which rang in at $17. But it's a hefty portion — fresh and nicely charred, with a splash of white Kalamata balsamic vinegar to elevate the flavors even further.
A nutty, cinnamon-heavy piece of baklava rounded out the meal, heavy on the honey syrup. This is for people who love the extra-sweet pastry; other desserts include phyllo dough filled with vanilla custard, rice pudding and fresh strained Greek yogurt with honey and almonds.
Cavos extends the authenticity to its beverage list, serving eight Greek wines ($7-9 a glass; $18-32 a bottle) along with the country's ubiquitous beer, Mythos. With a cold bottle of the brew and a glass of the dry, mineral Assyrtiko, my husband and I toasted and pretended for a few minutes that we were back on our honeymoon in Santorini.
The Bill: A meal at Cavos can be a family-style spread of shareable plates, a meat-stuffed pita or a full roast lamb dinner with lemon potatoes (a Sunday special, served all day). That's the beauty of this central Connecticut gem; its menu is varied enough for you to create your own experience.
The Verdict: If a plane ticket to Crete or Mykonos isn't in the budget this summer, order up some wine and mezedes on the patio and make your own vacation.
The Basics: Cavos is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant