Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hearty Greek Cuisine in Nokomis

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hearty Greek Cuisine in Nokomis

Article excerpt

Unassuming perhaps best captures the spirit of Ilia's Greek Restaurant, a small eatery in Nokomis. Located in one of the numerous strip malls that line this section of Tamiami Trail -- in this case a fairly new one, clean and well tended -- Ilia's, as its full name indicates, focuses on Greek cooking, although it makes occasional forays into Italian dishes as well.

The decor of Ilia's unfolds modestly. There's red carpet on the floor, light-colored natural wood wainscoting, pale yellow walls above that, a small bar in the back, and reproductions of paintings that range from classic to a depiction of a so-called Tuscan village that looks like it came right out of a Thomas Kincaid catalog.

Anyone familiar with Greek cooking knows that it tends toward the simple and homey, and like many ethnic cuisines in America restaurants have pared down the native dishes to a well-established and familiar repertoire. This is especially true at Ilia's, where the menu sticks to the tried-and-true and where the selections are pretty predictable. On the other hand, the result is like real home cooking -- with all its strengths and its occasional lapses.

For anyone unfamiliar with Greek food, a good place to start is with the Taste of Greece Cold ($8.95), a sampler plate of Greek appetizers. These included hummus, the chickpea spread flavored with tahini (ground sesame paste); tzatziki, a mixture of yogurt, olive oil, garlic and spices; a roasted eggplant spread; and dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves. Of these, the best was the eggplant, which was coarsely chopped and mixed with tomato, parsley and red pepper. Preparing the eggplant this way gave it an engaging texture, and the other ingredients clearly distinguished it from its cousin, baba ganoush. Although the hummus did not have as much tahini as I would like, it did have a very light and creamy texture and was still quite enjoyable.

Saganaki ($7.95), a pan-fried cheese, arrived at the table with an attractive golden crust but without the typical theatrics, where the server splashes brandy on it and flames it while crying out "opa! …

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