Melanthios Greek Charhouse, Lakeview Chicago

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My pregnant wife was craving Greek food. And for some reason, whenever I try to make Greek food, it is always disappointing. Fortunately, we have a decent place that recently opened up that is within walking distance.

Melanthios is on Broadway, between Diversey and Belmont. It sits in a building that used to be a video store years ago. After that, it became like a kitschy art gallery full of the kind of art you’d find over a couch in a moderately priced hotel suite. Now, it’s a Greek restaurant.

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The centerpiece of the restaurant is the big grill and show kitchen, which makes sense since they call it a charhouse. The grill apparatus is rather intriguing. The grates are hung over the heat and the distance from the heat can be adjusted by crank, which strikes me as very European and medieval.

The rest of the decor is designed to look like you are eating at an outdoor Mediterranean plaza, which is a common design motif for Greek restaurants in Chicago. I find it charming and annoying, like walking around the Venetian in Las Vegas, but without the stupefying inebriation.

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We were quickly seated. It was a Thursday night, so it was pleasantly full in the dining room, it by no means crowded. I ordered a Greek beer. I had never had a Greek beer before. My wife ordered a diet coke but then changed her mind and asked for sparkling water, which was Greek.

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The first thing we ordered was saganaki, which I am sure is Greek for flaming cheese. The dish is a slice of cheese heated on a metal plate. Then, at tableside, they douse it in high proof hooch and then set it on fire. The flames usually shoot up about four or five feet in the air, at which point the server shouts out Opa! It’s wonderful, it’s charming, and I’m sure it makes Greek servers die a little bit inside, every time they have to do it. But I don’t care. I love the whole thing.

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As the flames begin to die down, the server then squeezes a lemon wedge on the cheese to kill the fire. And then you can eat it. It’s nutty. It’s cheesy. It’s citrusy. It’s crispy. It’s melty. My wife and I joke half joke are seriously considering that we should just serially eat four or five orders of it for dinner and skip the rest of the meal. It’s that good.

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But, we did decide to order dinner that night.my wife ordered the gyros platter. She loves gyros, no matter whether we’re at a greasy spoon, cafeteria, or restaurant, if there’s gyros on the menu, she’s considering eating it. Plus, when you order gyros at a sit down restaurant, they usually come with Greek fries, which is regular fries with lemon, feta, and some herbs. Delicious.

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I ordered the biftekakia, which i had never had before. The description on the menu made it sound very rustic and very Greek. But when it came out, it looked like meatballs marinara with fries. When I took a bite however, I did get a sense of the Greekness of the dish. The meat seasoned quite aggressively with Greek flavors and herbs. Then, the meatballs were grilled (my guess is that they were baked first and then finished to order on the grill).

This resulted in a supremely savory meatball that had a really great crust. It is exactly the type of thing that you want to eat on a bone chilling winter evening in Chicago, which it happened to be that night. Plus, there was about half a dozen of these gargantuan balls. So clearing my plate was a challenge that I was able to conquer – with gusto.

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For dessert, we split an order of the baklava, which is one of my favorite kinds of dessert. The way they do the baklava at Melanthios is slightly different than what most people are used to. It’s not a lasagna of phyllo sheets and nuts, like Alton Brown’s. Instead, it’s more like a pie, with several flaky layers of phyllo on the bottom and several on the top. It’s delicious. The honey and nuts and fruit have such a wonderful flavor. It’s a must-have way to finish the meal.

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As we walked home, my wife felt like the baby was about to fall out of her vagina, so we had to walk slow. But then again, we’re almost at 37 weeks, and I’m told the baby is now hanging out upside down en utero, so anywhere we walk, we have to walk slowly. But I didn’t mind. After such a big meal, it was nice to go for a nice stroll.

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