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Restaurant Reviews

European Café

A tasty little getaway
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 22, 2008

At this time of year, when the weather is messing with us and we don't know whether we're going to romp sand or shovel snow, a restaurant like this can be a lifesaver. Specializing in Greek and Italian dishes, European Cafè can transport us for a couple of hours to Aegean and Mediterranean climes. Turquoise waters twinkle in photographs that catch your eye when you walk in, and the gloom over Narragansett Bay recedes to a bad memory.

European Cafè | 401.349.4200 | 645 Douglas Pike [Route 7], Smithfield | | Daily, 7 am - 1 am | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Accessible

The interior is airy and comfortable rather than ethnically specific, with an open-beamed ceiling, bright yellow trowel-textured walls, and lots of light. Italian and Greek popular songs play in the background. The bank of rear windows overlooks a large patio and driving range beyond. (Don't be shy about requesting a construction helmet.) Several gas heaters and a patio fireplace indicate that outdoor service is provided well into sweater weather.

We started with two Greek appetizer arrays, and they quickly won me over. The Middle Eastern dipping plate ($7.99) held kalamata olives and eggplant that was roasted rather than grilled, so it wasn't smoky, but it was delicious — especially with some of the accompanying feta from my plate to salt it up.

The white rice was bolstered with an olive oil that impressed Johnnie and a surprising touch of garlic that made me smile. But what popped up my eyebrows was the hummus, seasoned tantalizingly, as I've never tasted before. We come across hummus a lot, and I've never had better.

My Greek mezza platter ($12.99) was a meal in itself, was such a meaty offering that the stuffed grape leaves contained ground beef along with rice. The grilled slices of Greek sausage (loukaniko) got my attention, again seasoned more complexly than usual. Thick slices of lamb and beef gyro filling were draped over feta, and tiny meatballs (kefredes), fried crisp, topped a large amount of apricot jam.

Both our plates came with hot wedges of pita bread, and the yogurt and cucumber condiment tzatziki. Johnnie and I learned to love it in Athens, where raw garlic was the tooth-enamel-melting predominant component, but this version was quite mild. The restaurant owner, Elia Nassios, later told us that the kitchen had run out of the tzatziki his mother makes, which has a respectable amount of garlic, so they resorted to a commercial variety.

The menu currently has only eight entrèes listed, and a similar number of pastas, but more will be added at the beginning of the year. Greek items, such as baked feta and spinach pie, dominate the appetizers, but only one is among the regular entrûes, the kebab.

The chef is Mike Pennacchia. He does well with Italian recipes in addition to Greek, if my main dish was typical. The most interesting sounding pasta description was of the pesto shrimp ($14.99), which I'm glad I ordered. The large shells were al dente despite continuing to cook in a generous amount of swooningly creamy pesto-Alfredo sauce. The diced tomatoes and melted mozzarella would have been enough for the price, but it was topped with five medium grilled shrimp — a sumptuous bargain.

Since the dinner menu is available at lunchtime, Johnnie had been looking forward to the chicken with lemon-oregano sauce described online. But that was the Monday special, so we were told it wouldn't be served until 5 pm. She sighed and ordered the chicken kebab ($12.99). The grilled vegetable component was enjoyable, especially the thick slice of eggplant, but the marinated chicken was rather dry, even though the pieces were cut large to stay succulent. Management was full of apologies and insisted on deleting it from the bill, although this was after we identified ourselves to get some information.

Johnnie, ever curious, chatted up a couple of regulars she heard discussing the food. One recommended the pasta Bolognese, and the other touted the Greek salad, calling this her favorite place to eat.

Desserts, not made in-house, are the usual popular choices, including tiramisu, cheesecake, and chocolate mousse, except for one. We had to try the traditional Greek galaktobouriko ($5.99). Good decision. The semolina-lemon custard, baked under tissue-thin sheets of phyllo dough and drizzled with honey, tasted as delicious as that sounds. The huge rectangle would have satisfactorily fed four. And it went nicely with the hefty Greek coffee.

That made for an especially pleasant ending to our visit. A meal like that now and then, a couple travel posters, and we're set until spring or Angistra, whichever comes first.

Bill Rodriguez can be reached

  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Narragansett Bay , Foods , Fruits and Vegetables ,  More more >
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