A sign over Papa George's entrance says "Open to 4 a.m." That, I had always assumed, was the essence of this longtime institution at the corner of Osborne and River, and that was one reason I had never been there.
Although that late closing must be a huge attraction for night owls in a city that has so few such venues, my assumption was that good food in the middle of the night was an oxymoron, and that this was one of those places that didn't suffer from raised expectations.
Whether or not that's true, I confess right off that there's no way I'll stay up to eat at 4 a.m. The following report is based on visits during more conventional hours.
There were other reasons I had overlooked Papa George's until now. Nobody had ever asked me about it. Nobody had ever called to praise or complain. And the flyers that turned up in my mailbox so frequently had emphasized mostly pizza, ribs and the usual breaded and fried suspects.
Recently, though, I was told that there were a few Greek dishes on the menu, and that piqued my interest. It turned out that the wide-ranging menu actually offers several Greek dishes, and probably the easiest way to sample them is on the Greek Islands Platter ($29.95 for two), which comprises pork and chicken souvlaki, moussaka, bifteki, tiropita and spanakopita. It's also the most economical way, since most prices here seemed, well, pricier than those in other Greek restaurants.
I did my sampling a la carte, and the best dish I found was taramosalata, a velvety, caviar-based puree that is delicious, and so rich it defeated two of us. It comes with a single toasted pita for $6.55. An extra pita costs an ungenerous $1 more.
Tiropita of flaky phyllo rolled with three cheeses is also good. Its whopping price of $8.25 includes an underdressed Greek salad that was mostly head lettuce and pale tomatoes, with a sprinkle of feta and a single, token olive.
Chicken souvlaki was tender, if not remarkably flavourful ($14.50 for one skewer). There's also a tasty but dryish and skimpy portion of moussaka for $12.50. Prices include salad, choice of potato (baked or not bad frozen fries) or rice; also a dreadful mish-mash of near-raw carrots, overcooked zucchini and frozen-tasting green beans. And, surprisingly, an occasional piece of pan-fried, or possibly roasted potato that seemed to have strayed into the mixture, but tasted better than the other potatoes on our plates.
Non-Greek entrees run the gamut from breaded fried veal cutlet at $12.50, through eight breaded fried shrimp at $13.95, to a top sirloin steak with lobster tail for $27.95. Sampled barbecued back ribs ($14.95 for 11 ounces) had a healthy ratio of meat to bone, but not much flavour, and not enough barbecue sauce to disguise the fact. A fairly tasty lasagna goes for $11.50, with tossed salad or cole slaw (a vegetarian version is $10.50).
Also on the menu are "Lite Dinners or Late Night Snacks." Among them, a decent burger ($6.95) and passable sandwiches (mostly hot) that range from $6.95 for bacon or ham with cheese to $10.95 for a six-ounce top sirloin on garlic bread. Prices include fries and cole slaw.
Pizza, in my experience, was what Papa George's did best. They range from $8.30 for nine inches with one topping to $12.95 for a multi-topped 15 inches. The crust is just the way I like it — medium-thick, puffy and fresh — and the toppings are tasty.
They also do some good desserts. A honeyed baklava ($3.75) was soggy but tasted good, and the Greek milfe (say millefeuille and you may get the idea) of layered phyllo and custard ($3.95) was luscious.
Papa George's interior is more substantial and attractive than it looks from outside. There are two rooms, divided by a fireplace, and surprisingly — given today's trends — the cosier inner room, with the comfortable booths, is reserved for smokers.
Wines are few and perfunctory, but they do mix a good Caesar. Service is efficient.