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Portage Avenue restaurant offers familiar menu, but food is a cut above the usual

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2013 (1621 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The huge windows that line one wall of the space that was formerly home to Park Tower offer a pretty generic facade. But within, the colourful photographs of Santorini on Aegean blue walls and the bright accents of white, sail-like triangles that hang from the ceiling make a statement. Almost certainly there will be souvlaki. Possibly some other Greek specialties as well.

The menu, with a few variations, is replicated in Greek-owned neighbourhood restaurants all over town, offering the classic lineup of burgers, sandwiches, soup, salads as well as -- yes, inevitably -- gyros and souvlaki. It's a relatively short list but -- and it's a big but -- many of those familiar offerings are better than average and, particularly noteworthy, include one terrific dish I'd never seen on any other local menu.

Ntako salad at Gus and Tony's.


Ntako salad at Gus and Tony's.

From left, Margarita Valis with her father Gus and brother Tony.


From left, Margarita Valis with her father Gus and brother Tony.

Ntako salad


an assortment of chicken wings

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) an assortment of chicken wings

That was the Ntako salad, the description of which is reminiscent of the Italian panzanella bread salad. But (although you may need to eat it with a knife and fork) this one isn't really a salad, but more like a bruschetta, based on a rusk that is topped by juicy, ripe tomatoes, sprinkled with mild feta, moistened by olive oil and seasoned with oregano ($6.99). I tried it twice to be sure it was as delicious as it had been on my first visit, and it was.

Some of the best dishes I tried happened to be starters. The quality of the calamari was another surprise -- not those all-too-frequent big, tough, heavily breaded strips but tiny, tender ones in remarkably light breading ($9.49). The soups were also top-notch ($4.79 la carte, or an included choice with the dinner entrées). One frequent du jour is a hearty beef and barley soup, but the standout was the always available avgolemeno -- lighter than many starchy versions I've had, with pieces of chicken and just the right dose of lemon juice. The la carte Greek salad was mostly lettuce, with only two olives and not a lot of feta, but the olives and the feta were good, and the dressing was lovely ($7.99, or included with the entrées).

Not all the good starters were Greek. The wings were meaty, moist and wonderful, whether in a barbecue sauce or breaded, fried and seasoned simply with salt and pepper -- hot sauce, of course, is another alternative ($10.99 for 12). Other starters included chicken fingers and nachos, as well as tiropita and spanakopita (neither house-made).

There are only a few entrées, among them souvlaki of chicken or pork, both nicely marinated and tender (two skewers for $17.99). With them, soup or salad, delicious lemon roasted potatoes, flavourful rice pilaf, and a decent mixture of carrots, broccoli and mushrooms. It may not be Greek but the fish and chips -- two huge slices of lightly breaded and greaselessly fried haddock -- were equally good ($15.99). Spaghetti with meat sauce, baked under a slab of mozzarella, was tasty despite a slightly watery sauce ($13.99).

You can have your burger with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, chili and /or all the other usual suspects. Since Gus Vailas (co-owner, with son Tony) once owned Daly Burgers on Corydon, we expected a good burger, and we almost got it -- a single, in our case, with chili, onions and a pickle, that was generous and juicy, but with whatever flavour it might have had lost under a serious overdose of salt ($4.20).

The cheese may have been mozzarella instead of swiss, but the thickly packed reuben sandwich was still delicious ($6.75). The clubhouse was good too, distinguished by moist, flavourful chicken that tasted a lot like the souvlaki chicken ($6.75). Our gyros was less successful. Possibly the chicken filling might have been as good as the marinated chicken in the clubhouse, but our beef/lamb filling needed a lot more tzatziki and veggies to adequately disguise the fact that the meat was dry, dense and flavourless ($6.99).

The fries, though, were fresh and crisp ($3.75) -- great with just salt and vinegar, and also available with gravy or as poutine. But we went whole hog (so to speak) and had ours blanketed in the meaty house chili with chunks of feta -- an addictive and guilty pleasure ($6.50).

The best bet for dessert is ice cream. The baklava, which wasn't house-made, was a dryish disappointment, with far too much phyllo in relation to the meagre filling, and a Saskatoon berry pie (also made elsewhere) had a nice enough filling but a dreadful crust.

The restaurant is divided into two rooms, and although I don't know about the inner room, I do know that when the outer room is full the noise can be deafening. However, I did discover that a window table is much quieter than those in the middle of the room. Reservations are accepted for six or more only, and the place is usually packed by meal times, so if you want to be sure of a table, come early -- before noon if for lunch, before 6 if for dinner. Service, though, remains unflappable, efficient, and really, really nice.

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.


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Updated on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 9:22 AM CDT: replaces photos, adds fact box

9:38 AM: embeds map

April 21, 2014 at 9:47 AM: Corrects address

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