If you’ve ever had a hankerin’ for a properly cooked, spiced, juicy, herb-flecked, chicken souvlaki — and let’s face it who hasn’t? — then you owe it to yourself to hightail it to west Charleston for a taste of what this classic is supposed to taste like — before every cheap, commercial, gyro-parlor in America cheapened it into cardboard poultry oblivion.
Kali orixi (ka-lee or-IX-ee) means “bon appetit” or “good appetite/eat up” in Greek, and that’s just what we found ourselves doing at Yassou Greek Grill Cafe at lunch yesterday.
We even found ourselves swooning over the soupy, very vanilla rice pudding — the exact taste and texture we remember from our days at Yia Yia’s knee.
Ah…our Yia Yia (YIE-ya – grandmother in Greek). Pauline Dalacas Cutsumpas.* She was born in the Peloponnese (sometime around 1900, no one was ever sure of her age), never learned to read or write in any language, and was particularly fond of watching pro wrestling matches on her little 20″ b/w TV screen. We never understood three words that came out of her mouth in the 14 years she was around, but we’re sure she loved us in an old country, what-are-these-strange-English-speaking-kids-doing-in-my-house sort of way. Marcella Ruth Schroader Curtas (D.O.B. 8-10-24 – The Official Mother Of ELV), says Yia Yia openly wept for years at the thought of her son having married a non-Greek gal.
Her and Popou’s house (in Dunedin, FL) always smelled like one of three things: Black Flag bug spray (she used it as her own, personal bug repellent in place of cologne), musty old linens doused with cheap perfume, or glorious Greek food (usually the cinnamon-tinged scent of pastitsio in the oven, lemon and herb basted meats, or sweet, honey-drenched desserts).
And then there was the rice pudding. Just a touch more liquid than pudding-like, it would not hold together in the bowl or on your spoon. Made simply with egg yolks, whole milk, sugar, rice and vanilla, the aroma of rice starch cooking with sweetened eggs would fill the house. It is a primal smell, so intoxicating as to make any other dessert seem innocuous to us. Think of it: all of the most ethereal things on earth: milk, eggs, sugar and rice — heavily scented with vanilla. What more do you need to satisfy a sweet tooth….or an appetite almost sated from the tart, pungent and savory flavors of the Mediterranean kitchen?
Great Greek rice pudding will always be our favorite comfort food. It is the ultimate comfort food. It is elemental eating of the most satisfying kind.
And the version at Yassou was almost enough to erase the memory of our Yia Yia’s perfume.
YASSOU GREEK GRILL CAFE
7871 West Charleston Blvd. Suite 110
Las Vegas, NV 89117
* ELV’s keen-eyed readers will no doubt correctly conclude that “Curtas” is not the name he was born with. His birth name: “Cutsumpas” was, in and of itself, a bastardization of an even longer vowel-laden Greek surname that was simplified by some bureaucrat on Ellis Island a few hours after paternal grand-pere John Cutsumpas (“Popou”), got off the boat in 1910 (at the age of fifteen).