“We definitely added more Greek items,” says Niky Karamousadakis, about the new menu at her restaurant — simply named Niky’s — at 29 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. Having recently reopened in the new location, she said, “I wanted my main concept to be authentic Greek.”
You may find yourself making numerous visits to Niky’s Restaurant to explore the many flavors and interesting ingredients she offers. Especially if you get hooked on one particular flavor or dish that you’ll want to order more than once. It certainly could happen: Ask me about the extremely tasty, and perhaps addictive, Teftla Salad — fresh greens sprinkled with roasted red beets, a mild feta and spiced walnuts, topped with a nice, slightly tangy, homemade cider vinaigrette for $8.
When Karamousadakis found out how much I loved it, she was quite willing to share the recipe with readers. The Greek-born cook also divulges one of her favorite and very simple recipes for cooking leg of lamb, a common meat in the Greek diet.
You’ll find a few American dishes tucked into her lunch-time fare, she said, “but in general, dinner is 100 percent Greek.” She changes her dinner menu often enough that almost each time you visit, there will be something new to try. For instance, she plans to soon add a fried codfish dish served with Greek mashed potatoes (made with lots of garlic and — be forewarned — served cold, as is customary in Greece) with a side of beets; marinated pork grilled on charcoal, served with string beans cooked in a garlic sauce; and lamb chops marinated in ouzo, served with potatoes and a salad.Advertisement
The atmosphere in the small, brick-walled establishment, which once housed Antonio’s New York Deli — changes during dinner, too, she said. ” There are tablecloths and cloth napkins. The lights are dimmed. It’s a whole different experience.” She added that it is helpful if people call in and make reservations on Friday and Saturday nights.
Don’t let the Greek terminology on the menus deter you — all items are explained in great detail, and the wait staff will gladly provide further descriptions if necessary. Greek food typically utilizes a lot of mint and paprika. Karamousadakis also uses a lot of oregano in her cooking, she said, but points out that because it is imported directly from Greece, it is very different from what we typically find in the United States. “The smell . . . the texture . . . and the way it tastes,” she said.
One of the first things I noticed at Niky’s was the excellent pita bread, which she said is also brought in straight from her country of origin. “It makes all the difference.” Received as unbaked dough, she bakes each one as they are ordered. As an extra touch, she has decided to serve warm pitas during dinner hours, along with an array of accoutrements, such as Greek olives, cherry tomatoes, feta and her homemade tzatziki sauce (a combination of yogurt, spices and grated cucumber).
Although we loved the gyro that we ordered (a classic version of the Greek sandwich made with chicken or small patties made of beef and lamb; $8), Karamousadakis suggested next time we try her version called Athena’s Gyro ($9), which she instead cooks up with thin strips of tender lamb meat, with a few French fries tucked in for good measure.
Everything Karamousadakis creates is made fresh each day, and is cooked to order. She is an inventive and detail-oriented cook — she said it took her about one month to develop and fine tune her recipe for kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters; $7), which are now one of her most popular items. “I have fun in the kitchen! My recipe for feta cheese (salad) dressing just popped into my head one day,” she added. Speaking of salad dressings, she hopes to soon produce and bottle them for customers to buy and use at home.
And you cannot mention a Greek restaurant without discussing baklava ($4), a Greek dessert staple made with ground nuts, honey (or similarly sweet syrup) and phyllo pastry. Karamousadakis said her recipe — considered a family secret, passed down from her grandmother to her mother to all the daughters in the family — tastes noticeably different from those you may have tasted in the past. It turns out the baklava is one of the most challenging items to make, mainly because of the various factors in the kitchen that can affect each batch. For dessert, she also offers galaktoboureko (a custard pie made with phyllo dough) and karidopita — a walnut cake with a simple syrup (both $3.50). “I usually try to make one with chocolate, as well,” she said.
She has just begun serving glukia tou kotaliou — translates to “little spoon desserts” — which are fruit cooked in a sugar base, sometimes served over ice cream and sometimes by itself.
Since they just received their liquor license, Niky’s will soon be serving Greek wines and ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif that Karamousadakis said smells and tastes like black licorice. It will be served with traditional meze platters, which she said are basically an array of meats (such as lamb chops, meatballs or sausage), seafood (such as shrimp and fried smelts) or vegetables.
Regarding her new neighborhood, she said she is glad to have moved onto Lisbon Street from where they used to reside on Lowell Street near Central Maine Medical Center. “I am proud to be on the same street with Marche, Fuel, Mother India and The Vault. I think Lisbon Street is really starting to come together and it is a great place for people who love food and wine to venture out to. I feel as though people actually know where we are now, opposed to the other location where we were hidden.”
Ingredients (the amounts for each depend on the size of your salad and your preference):
Walnuts, finely chopped
About 1/2 cup olive oil
Up to 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey (or more, to taste)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Clean the fresh beets, take the skin off and put them in a pot of water and a little vinegar. Boil until done (about 20 minutes). Chop them up and transfer them to a baking pan. Drizzle oil on top and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Chop walnuts in a mixer. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to them as well, to taste, and place in a baking dish. Put both pans in the oven for about 10 minutes. While they are heating, cut the romaine lettuce and put it in your salad bowl. For the dressing, in another bowl mix the oil, balsamic vinegar and honey and set aside. When the beets and walnuts are cooked, add them on top of the romaine lettuce. Chop up feta cheese and drizzle the salad dressing on top.
Leg of Lamb
Ingredients (again, the amounts for each depend on the size of your leg of lamb and your preference):
Leg of lamb
Instructions from Niky Karamousadakis:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take the leg of lamb and wash well. Make two small cuts on each side of the lamb. Place chopped garlic and mint into each of these cuts. In a baking pan, add olive oil on the bottom. Put the leg of lamb in it and add salt, pepper, oregano and garlic. Add water so the lamb won’t stick to the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, making sure that you are checking it and turning it over occasionally. At this time, I usually take about 5 tomatoes and put them through a blender. I don’t use tomato paste, but if you would like to, you can. When the tomatoes have become a puree, I take the lamb out and add the tomatoes to the pan. Return the lamb to the pan and cook another few minutes until tender. Add 1 cup of rice or orzo. Continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the meat and the rice. If necessary, add a little more water.
Niky’s Greek Restaurant
29 Lisbon St., Lewiston, Maine
Lunch served: Monday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner served: Wednesday through Saturday: 5 to 9 p.m.