May 18, 2008

Zorba's Steak and Seafood Restaurant Review in the Wilmington Star

[EDIT: They shut down in the Fall of 2008 and the bldg is now for sale/lease.]

[EDIT: 03/05/2009- Havana's has now opened.

Wilmington Star News Article

By Liz Biro
Star-News Correspondent

Anyone who knows Carolina Beach knows the old gray house among boxy buildings on the commercial strip. The 1916 Craftsman-style bungalow is a historic landmark, and for a while it gained acclaim as a fine-dining destination, thanks to The Cottage Wine Bar and Grill, which Fodor's considered one of the North Carolina coast's best places to eat.

Last year, The Cottage closed and Zorba's Steak and Seafood Restaurant moved in, replacing gourmet dishes such as blue cheese bread pudding and rosemary fire-roasted chicken with assorted Greek specialities and casual fare like ribs, steaks, fried seafood and standard pastas.

No doubt, though, that this is a Greek place. White and azure trim the porch where bright yellow used to be, illustrated Ionic columns decorate the restaurant's banner, and owner Ioannis Gonalakis', who also runs Gyros No. 1 in Kure Beach and Gyros No. 2 in Carolina Beach, might be hanging around front-lawn tables ribbing local teenagers in his thick Greek accent.

Inside, the old house still feels like someone's home, and friendly servers come off familiar as family. White-walled dining rooms offer little in decor, but no matter; most patrons prefer the wide porch or large, screened side deck furnished with low-slung metal patio chairs.

Much of the Greek cuisine shows up among typical appetizers such as chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks and fried calamari.

Thick tzatziki has a nice garlic bite and cucumber crunch, and mild hummus allows the flavor of garbanzo beans to shine atop toasty pita wedges. Lemony dolmades, however, were recently mushy, and grilled spanakopita triangles had a dull flavor despite promising char marks.

Greek dishes don't always toe the traditional line. Layers of thickly sliced potatoes, thinly sliced tender zucchini, and a ground beef tomato sauce akin to bolognese make up a satisfying entree that the menu calls "moussaka" but that seems more like lasagna in which potatoes are substituted for noodles. Saganaki is not the usual kasseri cheese flambeed tableside but a bowl of bland melted cheese.

Chicken shish kabobs' breast meat chunks and crisp-tender bell peppers are fine, but eight baby lamb chops arrived one night in various states of doneness, some tender and medium-well, others dry, crusty and overcooked. Dry rice and a soggy carrot-broccoli-cauliflower melange accompanied the entree.

Most desserts are not housemade, including crisp Greek butter cookies (kourabiedes) dotted with pecans and rolled in powdered sugar. The kitchen does produce a dense, moist coconut layer cake with plenty of sugary white icing that begged a cup of Zorba's reliable coffee and a little more time on the front porch.

Dining review: Zorba's Steak and Seafood
Cuisine: Greek, American and Italian, with traditional American breakfasts and lunch sandwiches.
Location: 1 N. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach
Phone: (910) 458-3335
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Price range: $3 to $30
Payment: Cash, Visa and Mastercard
Sanitation grade: 93.5
Atmosphere: Beach casual and super friendly.
We say: Some of Zorba's Greek dishes can be disappointing, but the service is friendly and the outdoor dining options are fabulous.
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