Greeks are infatuated with their cultural contributions to society.
We all know how the Olympic Games came about, and let’s not forget those fabulous Greek gods such as Zeus and Dionysus, a deity with a fondness for wine, parties and general ecstasy.
Greek cuisine boasts a storied, almost mythical history as well. Many recipes in Greek families get handed down over the generations in an effort to perpetuate this cultural transmission.
In other words, the Greeks love food and wine so much that most conversations end up on the topic. (They are like the Basques in that way.)
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Aki and Farrah Kalatzakis recently moved to Boise from the Bay Area with the sole purpose of giving folks around here a taste of street-style Greek food with a fast-casual, Idaho bent. After receiving some Greek cooking lessons from Aki’s dad, Taki, and doing some research in Greece, the friendly couple opened Meraki Greek Street Food in October at the former Proto’s Pizzeria spot in BoDo.
Taki knows a thing or two about Greek food. He was born in Greece and spent around 30 years working as a chef at various Mediterranean eateries in Northern California, where he still lives. Taki is retired now, but not before passing the torch to Aki by teaching him the treasured family recipes — many of which are served at the new restaurant.
The interior design lends itself to a fast-casual concept. When diners enter the front door, their eyes get directed down a hallway to a large, colorful chalkboard menu. While the focus is clearly on time-honored Greek recipes, it doesn’t mean that the menu — various gyro (pronounced “yee-ro”) sandwiches, salads, appetizers and desserts — doesn’t mix it up with some hybrid preparations.
Once diners have figured out what they want, it’s time to head to the counter and place their orders. This area sometimes turns into a bottleneck during the lunch rush, but everything comes out of the kitchen relatively fast.
The dining room is an amalgam of rustic and modern accents, with dark-stained wood and ornate touches of blue and white — the colors of the Greek flag. Large televisions silently display travel shows from scenic Greece on a continuous loop, and recorded Greek folk music lingers overhead.
Gyros take the top podium on the menu here. Marinated, hand-stacked proteins such as traditional pork, chicken and a lamb and Angus beef mixture (formed onto large sticks) get roasted in vertical rotisserie units and shaved to order by the blue T-shirt-clad cooks.
Once the meat has been chosen, then it’s time to talk style. Meraki offers six styles of gyro sandwiches, ranging from Traditional to Athena to the Bronco, a local shout-out.
The Traditional beef and lamb gyro ($9) follows the standard conventions of how gyro sandwiches get judged, at least by American palates. One day, the meat on this sandwich was surely fragrant due to a marinade of garlic, rosemary and other herbs, yet I found it to be a little on the tough side. The chewy meat came enveloped in a puffy, grilled pita round with chopped tomato, red onion, parsley and a delicious light-green tzatziki sauce made with thick Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic and dill. A small handful of crispy fries protruded from the fold, making Idahoans feel at home — even if they're unaware that fries are a common gyro ingredient in Greece.
A chicken gyro done up Bronco style ($10) is a winning combination of tender and aromatic shavings of marinated chicken wrapped in warm pita with sweet and smoky bacon, crumbled blue cheese, tomato, red onion, chopped romaine lettuce and creamy tzatziki.
Crete meets the City of Brotherly Love with the Philly pork gyro ($9.50). Grilled pita gets stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth pork, griddle-seared onion and bell pepper, tzatziki and a few oozy, fried Gouda cheese sticks (bourekia) instead of that neon-orange cheese sauce they love so much in Philly.
There’s even a vegetarian gyro for those on the meatless track, constructed with falafel-like fritters made with Greek fava beans akin to split yellow peas. One afternoon, I went for the Athena version ($9), meaning that the crunchy legume croquettes were surrounded by chopped veggies (cucumber, tomato and red onion), feta cheese crumbles, romaine lettuce and tzatziki.
Meraki stays the traditional course with its salads and soups.
A village salad ($8), otherwise known as horiatiki, is essentially a mound of sliced tomato, cucumber, red onion, bell pepper and briny Kalamata olives tossed in garlicky vinaigrette, with an oregano-flecked slab of feta on top.
The Avgolemeno soup ($3/eight ounces) boasts pronounced lemon and egg notes, as expected, and it’s good and chunky thanks to the kernels of rice and pieces of chicken that thicken this fabled Greek soup.
For starters, diners can get small noshes such as a whole order of the aforementioned Greek cheese sticks ($5; served with roasted red pepper marinara sauce) and spanikopita ($6), which were a tad bit greasy during one visit once the feta and spinach mixture seeped through the baked phyllo triangles.
Think of the Zeus fries ($9) as Greek-style nachos. A pile of crispy fries (for now, the eatery is using the freezer-to-fryer variety) gets draped with tzatziki, crumbled feta, oregano, chopped tomato and red onion and a pick of the gyro proteins. I chose the beef and lamb mixture, and it was incredibly tender this time.
Take care of that sweet tooth with an order of baklava bites ($5), a stack of little, flaky phyllo logs (filled with a dark walnut mixture spiced with cloves and cinnamon) drenched in sweet and sticky honey syrup.
Consistency is paramount in the restaurant business, and Meraki appears to be making the adjustments it needs to become a local favorite. The family recipes truly anchor the concept.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman .com.
Meraki Greek Street Food
Address: 345 S. 8th St., Boise
Phone: (208) 639-1693
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers, soups and salads $3-$10; gyro sandwiches $8-$11.
Libation situation: Imported Greek wines and beers (in the bottle), around eight draft brews from the Boise area, and even some draft Idaho wines.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: October 2016