A Taste of the Mediterranean in Greater Boston
By Katherine Alex Stevens
The Greater Boston area is justly famous for its hometown specialties (clam chowder or fried clams, anyone?), but did you know that, with a little searching, you can find gyros to rival those from the finest Athenian souvlatzidika, lamb and seafood dishes evocative of the Greek islands, and farm-to-table creations from a Tuscan-born chef? Join us for a Mediterranean odyssey. . . without leaving Massachusetts!
First, the gyros: tucked away in a nondescript part of Government Center, past a shoe repair and up an outdoor escalator, is a gem of a restaurant called Zo Boston. Translated as “I live” in Greek, Zo offers up the aforementioned authentic gyro: your choice of fresh pork or chicken, wrapped up in warm pita bread and topped with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. These are not the industrial, filler-laced “gyro” meat patties you may know from elsewhere in the US, but sizzling meats sliced off their spinning spits as you watch.
The resulting meat is crisp-yet-juicy perfection. Get there early (Zo is open weekdays only from 11 AM – 3 PM) because one gyro will keep you full well until dinnertime. And plan to make a return trip another day, because the generously-sized spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie) is a revelation of its own!
Looking to complement your casual lunch with an elegant dinner? Head north up the coast to beautiful Ipswich, Mass. and Ithaki restaurant. Named after Odysseus’s home island (what English speakers know as “Ithaca”), Ithaki promises to be “a refuge for homesick Greeks,” and anyone longing for a taste of authentic Greek dishes will feel right at home here. While the weather’s still on the chilly side, tuck into a melt-in-your-mouth lamb shank, braised in tomato sauce, covered in melted mizithra cheese, and nestled on a bed of orzo pasta. Or opt for a more delicate seafood dish, like local Massachusetts haddock or bronzini (Mediterranean seabass) flown in from Greece. A wide range of appetizers, classic comfort dishes (moussaka and pastitsio among them), and some great Greek wines (try the aromatic red Agiorgitiko) round out the menu at this restaurant that is worthy of its Homeric inspiration.
For Mediterranean flavors with an Italian perspective, head to cozy and romantic Bistro 5 in West Medford (just 7 miles northwest of Boston). The menu evolves with the seasons, with choices including wild boar, local fish, and farm-fresh vegetables. If your stay in greater Boston happens to coincide with the Christmas season, be sure to try Bistro 5’s prix fixe Feast of the Seven Fishes menu. The 2012 menu featured an exquisite fritto misto (calamari, shrimp, anchovies & olives with heirloom tomato sauce), lobster lasagna, and zeppole (honey-coated fried dough served with eggnog gelato), among other delicious choices. And choosing a wine is half the fun: the enthusiastic bartender will offer you an education along with your Sardinian Vermentino or Campanian Falanghina.
Greater Boston may not have ancient ruins or turquoise waters, but if it’s Greek or Italian flavors you’re after, these three local restaurants deliver in spades. Kali orexi/buon appetito!