Mykonos Cafe And Taverna – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mykonos Cafe for Authentic Greek Cuisine in Albuquerque

Jose Villegas, my friend and colleague at Hanscom Air Force Base, earned the most ignominious nickname. Everyone called him “Jose Viernes” which fans of the 1960s television series Dragnet might recognize is the Spanish translation for “Joe Friday.” We didn’t call him Jose Viernes because he was a “just the facts” kind of guy. He earned that sobriquet because he lived for Fridays. Jose kept a perpetual calendar in his head, constantly reminding us that there are “only XXX days until Friday.” Quite naturally, his favorite expression was “TGIF” which he could be overheard exclaiming ad-infinitum when his favorite day of the week finally arrived. Conversely, for him (as it is for many Americans), Monday was the most dreaded way to spend one-seventh of his life, an accursed day that mercilessly ended his weekend.

Aside from the temporary reprieve Friday provides from the grind of an arduous workweek, Jose’s anticipation about Fridays had everything to do with fun, friends, food and females. Mostly food…or so we thought. Jose was one of the first gourmets I ever met, a man with an educated palate and nuanced tastes (though for some reason, he disliked the foods of his native Puerto Rico). On Fridays, his favorite Greek restaurant served a combination platter brimming with several of his favorite dishes. Jose raved about such delicacies as dolmas, spanakopita, galaktoboureko and other dishes he could spell and pronounce flawlessly and which he considered ambrosiatic. Jose rebuffed all offers of company when Greek was Friday’s featured fare, likely because he was as interested in a comely weekend waitress as he was the food.

Bread and Dipping Sauce

In the Hanscom area, some twenty miles northwest of Boston, several of the local Italian and pizza restaurants were owned and operated by Greek proprietors.  Some of them would occasionally offer such weirdness as “stuffed grape leaves,” a dish of which my callow mind could not then fathom.  Save for a “Mediterranean Pizza” (kalamata olives, feta cheese, olive oil) I left Massachusetts without ever experiencing Greek food.  After my inauguration into the culinary delights (at Gyros Mediterranean in Albuquerque) of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, I cursed Jose Viernes for not having introduced me to such deliciousness.  What kind of friend was he to have kept such dishes as gyros, spanakopita, tarama and stuffed grape leaves (those paragons of weirdness) from me!

Jose Viernes still comes to mind whenever we visit a Greek restaurant.  If the fates have been kind to him, he’s probably found a job that allows him to work four ten-hour days a week so he can have his precious Fridays off.  Maybe he married that Greek waitress none of us ever met and opened his own Greek restaurant.  Perhaps someday through the magic of the internet, I hope we can reconnect and reminisce.   Better still, I hope we can break pita together and discuss the nuances of Greek cuisine.  With any luck, that reunion will take place at Mykonos Cafe on Juan Tabo.

Greek Appetizer Plate: Spanakopita, Feta cheese & Kalamata olives, Hummus, Dolmas & Toasted Pita

Though–as very well chronicled in the May, 2017 edition of Albuquerque The MagazineGreek restaurateurs have plied their talents across the Duke City for generations, they often did so in restaurants showcasing New Mexican and American  culinary fare in such venerable institutions as Western View Diner & Steakhouse, Mannie’s Family Restaurant, Lindy’s, Monte Carlo Steakhouse, Town House Dining Room, Milton’s and many others.  Menus at these restaurants included a smattering of Greek dishes, but it wasn’t until much later that true Greek restaurants began dotting the culinary landscape.

Restaurants such as the Olympia Cafe (1972),  Gyros Mediterranean (1978), Yanni’s Mediterranean (1995) are the elder statesmen among Albuquerque’s Greek restaurants with Mykonos Cafe (1997) the newcomer in the group.  Situated in the Mountain Run Shopping Center, Mykonos was founded by veteran restaurateur Maria Constantine.  In 2014, Mykonos changed hands when Nick Kapnison, Jimmy Daskalos and wife Nadine Martinez-Daskalos purchased the restaurant.  Kapnison and Daskalos are among the Duke City’s most accomplished restaurant impresarios, boasting of such local favorites as Nick & Jimmy’s and El Patron.  The talented triumvirate gave Mykonos a complete make-over, revamping virtually everything in the restaurant.

Avgolemono

More than ever, the restaurant evokes images of Mykonos, the Greek island for which the restaurant is named.  Sea-blue paint, in particular, will transport you to the crystal clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean.  The cynosure of the restaurant is a “bubble wall,” an illuminated glass fixture which holds moving water and changes color depending on its setting.  Capacious and attractive as the dining area is, for parents of furry, four-legged children, the dog-friendly patio is a welcome milieu.  Our delightful dachshund Dude (he abides) enjoys the attention he receives from the amiable wait staff.

The menu is very well organized into several categories: dips and spreads, Mezethakia (appetizers), soupa, salata, entrees, vegetarian, steaks, chops and lamb, seafood, sandwiches, pastas, sides and homemade desserts.  Though it’s not the menu’s goal  to make it difficult to decide what to order, it may very well have that effect on you…especially if your tastes are diverse.  Jose Viernes would enjoy perusing the many options.  While you ponder what to order, a single bread roll with a dipping sauce is ferried over to your table.  The base for the dipping sauce is olive oil to which chile flakes, cheese and seasonings are added.  It’s among the best you’ll find anywhere.

14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop

7 May 2017:  If you need additional time to study the menu, order the Greek Appetizer Plate (spanakopita, feta cheese & kalamata olives, hummus, dolmas and toasted pita).  It’ll keep you noshing contentedly as you decide what will follow and it’ll give you a nice introduction to the restaurant’s culinary delights.  Each offering on the plate is a high quality exemplar of the Greek Mezethakia (appetizer) tradition.  The spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese baked in filo pastry) is a light and flaky wedge of subtle flavor combinations while the feta and kalamata olives come at you full-bore with more straight-forward and assertive flavors.  The dolmas are vegetarian though a beef version (stuffed grape leaves with beef and rice served hot with avgolemono sauce) is available as an appetizer option.

7 May 2017: Entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad.  Jose Viernes would call the Avgolemono a “no-brainer.”   Avgolemono is a traditional Greek soup made with chicken broth, rice (or orzo) eggs, and lemon juice.  Wholly unlike the sweet and sour soup you might find at a Chinese restaurant, it’s only mildly tart and blends tart and savory tastes in seemingly equal proportions.  It has a rich citrus (but far from lip-pursing) flavor and an almost creamy texture from the eggs.  The base of Mykonos’ avgolemono soup is a high-quality chicken stock that keeps all other ingredients nicely balanced.

Kotopoulo (Slow-roasted Chicken with Mediterranean herbs and Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

7 May 2017: The fourteen-ounce bone-in pork chop is quite simply the best, most tender and delicious pork chop we’ve had in Albuquerque–better even than the broasted pork chop masterpiece at Vick’s Vittles.  When our server asked how I wanted the chop prepared, I told her the chef could indulge himself.  It arrived at our table at about a medium degree of doneness with plenty of moistness and just a hint of pink.  Greek seasonings penetrated deeply into as tender a cut of pork as we’ve ever had, imbuing the chop with luscious flavors.  It was a paragon of porcine perfection.  The pork chop is served with tender asparagus spears and mashed potatoes (though you can opt for au gratin potatoes instead). 

7 May 2017: My Kim’s choice, as it often is when we visit Nick & Jimmy’s, was the Kotopoulo (slow roasted chicken with Mediterranean herbs and extra virgin olive oil).  As with many entrees at Mykonos, the chicken is sizeable enough for two people to share.  It is comprised of a breast, leg, thigh and wing, all slow-roasted and flavored with lemon and flecked with garlic and oregano.  The skin is crispy while the entirety of the chicken is moist and delicious.  Roasted Greek potatoes are an excellent pairing for the chicken. 

Mykonos Combination Platter

29 April 2018:  Culinary adventurers who crave dining diversity need go no further than the Mykonos Combination Platter to savor some of best known and most beloved of all Greek delicacies including moussaka, pastitsio, beef dolmathes and spanakopita.   Though traditionally prepared with lamb, Mykonos’ version of moussaka is a vegetarian variation replete with eggplant and seasonal vegetables topped with a creamy béchamel sauce.  The béchamel is thick and frothy, wholly unlike its Italian counterpart.  In all honesty, this dish appeals to me as much because of an episode of Seinfeld as anything else.  When Pakistani immigrant Babu Bhatt opened a restaurant he named the Dream Cafe, he offered such un-Pakistani favorites as tacos, moussaka and franks and beans.  Jerry, of course, had the turkey.  It’s not a bad dish, but my preference would have been for the version made with lamb. 

Much better is the pastitsio (baked macaroni, tomato sauce, ground beef and a blend of cheeses topped with béchamel), a dish often called Greek lasagna.  “Pastitsio” is a term describing a hodgepodge or scramble, and indeed this dish combines a number of different ingredients together in a single dish.    On the Mykonos version, the ground beef is seasoned with nutmeg.  As with the moussaka, it would have been even better with lamb.  The beef dolmathes (grape leaves stuffed with beef and rice, topped with lemon dill sauce) are made on the premises and are among the very best in the city.  The lemon dill sauce is even more tart than the Avgolemono.  One of the best starters on the menu, the spanokopita (spinach & feta cheese baked in filo pastry) is a delight to eat both from a textural and flavor perspective.  The light, delicate filo gives way to a blend of spinach and feta that bring out the best in one another.

Going strong into its second decade, Mykonos Cafe and Taverna is the type of restaurant my friend Jose Viernes would enjoy every day of the week.  So will you.

Mykonos Cafe and Taverna
5900 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 291-1116
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 April 2018
1st VISIT: 7 May 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Kotopoulo, 14-Ounce Bone-In Pork Chop, Greek Appetizer Plate, Avgolemono, Mykonos Combination Platter, Tiri Ke Elies

Mykonos Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Olympia Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue

For culinary diversity, it’s hard to beat the University of New Mexico (UNM) area in which restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal are congregated. Aside from academic enrichment, this area is nurturing a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  That seems to be a commonality in areas within easy walking distance of large urban universities.  Perhaps restaurateurs recognize that students–especially the oft-maligned millennials–are not only willing to open up their minds to new knowledge, but their wallets and their minds to new culinary experiences.

The UNM area inaugurated many of us from rural parts of the state to wonderful new taste sensations.  The heretofore enigmatic mysteries of the Orient unraveled themselves the first time we tasted the sweet and sour variations of Chinese food and braved cultural taboos to actually consume raw fish.  The first time we sampled real pizza ((my friend Captain Tuttle can attest to this), we cursed Chef Boyardee and Pizza Hut for deigning to call their tomato sauce slathered cardboard “pizza.”  We lost a bit of our naivete and innocence with each bite of each and every new culinary adventure we experienced.  Life for many of us would never be the same.

Place Your Order At The Front Counter

I dare say that for many UNM students, especially those from rural areas, their first tastes of Greek cuisine occurred at the Olympia Cafe on Central Avenue.  The Olympia Cafe is a venerable elder statesman among UNM area restaurants, launching in 1972.  That’s when Spiros and Marina Counelis began serving Greek cuisine directly across the street from New Mexico’s largest university.   In 2009, Spiros finally embarked on a well-deserved retirement–which lasted less than a year before he and his family launched Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining in the Heights Village shopping center at Montgomery and Juan Tabo. 

The Olympia Cafe was purchased by Charles Akkad who, for the most part, continued in the traditions established by his predecessor.  The greatest change Akkad made was in expanding operating hours.  Olympia is now open Monday through Saturday from 11AM to 10PM and on Sunday from 12PM to 8PM.  It’s a more accommodating schedule for those of us who neither live nor work in the UNM area.  Alas, in preparing this review, I came across a “Go Fund Me” page to save the Olympia Cafe which has apparently suffered severely from the erosion of business wrought by the ART project.

Front Dining Room

Even the thought of losing the Olympia Café sends shudders down the spines of the many loyalists this café has cultivated over the years. It seems imponderable that one could drive Route 66 and not be greeted by the unmistakable aromas of well-seasoned Greek cuisine wafting onto Central Avenue. Those aromas are not only a welcome respite from the choking haze of automobile emissions, they’re a prelude to deliciousness. Step into the restaurant and the first thing you see is a counter in which you place your orders. The specials of the day are scrawled on a slate board on a restaurant wall while the daily menu is situated just above the counter.

After the aromas, the next thing you’ll notice is the restaurant’s liveliness. During lunch hour rushes, the Olympia Cafe is bustling with activity. A salvo of orders is quickly filled by a well-practiced kitchen staff.  It doesn’t take very long.  Insofar as ambiance, picture lots of Mediterranean blue touches. In the front dining room a life-sized mural depicts a pulchritudinous athlete setting a torch alight. Seating is more functional than it is comfortable.

Gyros

You won’t be seated long before your number is called and you can walk to the counter to pick up your order.  Portion sizes are prolific.  It may take two of you to carry back the serving trays and their bounteous loads.  That’s especially true if you order one of the restaurant’s terrific appetizers and a dessert, too.  The best way to maximize your experience and appreciation of Greek cuisine is by ordering one of the menu’s combination combos (there are three combo platters on the menu, including one vegetarian).  The most diverse of those combo platters is the Olympia Platter, a combination platter of Moussaka, Pastichio, Gyros meat with tzatziki sauce and dolmathes.  A small Greek salad replete with feta cheese is also part of this platter. 

Pastichio might be described as the Greek answer to lasagna.  It’s a baked macaroni casserole layered with ground beef and topped with cheese and a cream topping.  All too often this entree is surprisingly dry, sometimes the byproduct of over-heating. That’s not the case at Olympia where it is moist and delicious, even tasting made to order.   Another casserole dish on the Olympia combo is Moussaka, a baked eggplant and ground beef casserole also topped with a cream sauce.  Moussaka is a very common dish in the Mediterranean region, but it’s vastly different in every country in which it is served.  The Greek version is my favorite.  Made correctly, the filling has a smooth and rich consistency and the eggplant is baked to perfection (not an easy feat).  Undercooked eggplant may leave your mouth with a metallic taste sensation that can last for hours.  At Olympia, the sole sensation you’ll experience is the desire for a second portion.

Greek Salad

6 September 2017: Perhaps the most popular entree at the Olympia Cafe as at other Greek restaurants are gyros, slices of beef and lamb broiled on a vertical split then wrapped in a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce. The beef and lamb amalgam is moist, tender and very well seasoned, but what enlivens it with flavor is the tzatziki which is made of finely chopped cucumber and dill and mixed with natural yoghurt. There’s a tinge of sweetness to the yoghurt along with the fresh, cool taste of the cucumber that goes very well with the meat.  If anything, we would have appreciated even more of the tzatziki.

In its annual food and wine issue for 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the Olympia Cafe a hot plate award for its chicken souvlaki.  Hot plate awards are accorded annually to some of the city’s most delicious dishes as seen by the magazine’s editors and staff.  The magazine describe this dish as “fit for the gods.”

Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp filo topped with a light syrup

If you have any room left over, dessert options abound.  My favorite Greek dessert even though I’m still not able to pronounce it is Galatoboureko, baked custard between crisp phyllo topped with a light honeyed syrup.  The custard is rich and delicious but not at all cloying.  Galatoboureko is a Cypriot delicacy and one of the best desserts anywhere.

If your own life broadening experiences have yet to include Greek cuisine, the Olympia Cafe is a great restaurant in which to experience one of the world’s first and most delicious cuisines.

Olympia Cafe
2210 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 166-5222
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2017
1st VISIT: 20 October 2008
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING:  18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Olympia Combo, Gyros, Galatoboureko

Olympia Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gyros Mediterranean – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gryos Mediterraneon just off the UNM campus is a popular dining destination.

Gryos Mediterranean on Cornell.

It’s not easy being a gastronome about town when you make less than a thousand dollars a month and have a car payment, rent and a social life.   Stationed at Kirtland in the early 1980s, my Air Force salary pretty much dictated that most of my meals were at the base’s chow hall (which thankfully was legions better than the Peñasco High School cafeteria).   The little that was left of my meager monthly take-home pay meant social outings were pretty much of the cheap eats variety.

The epicenter for many of my off-site meals seemed to be Cornell Drive where it was possible to find restaurants with a broad socioeconomic appeal–restaurants which nurtured a refreshing open-mindedness toward the cuisines of the world.  Within easy walking distance of one another on Cornell, you could find battleship sized slices of pizza at Nunzio‘s, the very best lamb burger and green chile stew in the world at the long defunct Sheepherder’s Cafe, half a city block of full-contact eating at the Frontier Restaurant and a gourmand’s paradise of Greek food at Gyros Mediterranean.

Gryos Mediterranean dining room.

A Rare Sight: Gryos Mediterranean Not Packed.

Though my first two years in the Air Force (happily served in the Boston area) introduced me to Asian cuisine of every type, I was virginal when it came to Greek food until discovering Gyro’s Mediterranean on Cornell. Back then, this was the place to go for the eponymous gyros, a popular Greek sandwich. Gyros, a blend of lamb, beef and aromatic herbs and spices is grilled slowly on a vertical spit then sliced thinly into a pita which is topped with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, a savory yogurt sauce loaded with garlic and cucumbers.

5 December 2015: Both Gyros,  the restaurant, and I have grown up and out since then.  While Gyro’s gyros are still among the best in town, the restaurant itself has added an extensive menu of Greek classics.  Your best bet remains the gyros combination platter which includes a Greek salad and patates.  Order it with double meat and you might have some left over to take home.  By far, the very most popular side dish or appetizer at Gyros are the patates, thinly sliced homemade potato chips served warm.  They’re not quite as thin as conventional potato chips, but they’re much better tasting even if a bit salty.  Don’t dare desecrate these chips with ketchup.

Double Meat Gyros

Appetizers (mezedakia) play an important role in the Greek table.  Most Greek appetizers are salty, piquant (or both) and accompanied by ouzo (a clear anise-flavored liqueur).  By tradition, appetizers are meant to be eaten slowly and while they are quite delicious, their traditional purpose remains to make drinking ouzo easier. Although Gyros Mediterranean doesn’t serve ouzo, appetizers themselves are cause for celebration.

One of the most popular is the aptly named mezedakia (small plates of tasty morsels or appetizers).  At Gyros, the featured tasty morsels are dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice), feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pita bread (all pictured below).  The dolmades, although fresh and well seasoned, have a “canned” taste (very few restaurants make their own any more).   The feta is of the wonderful breath-wrecking variety, definitely not recommended for a hot date.  The Kalamata olives are mouth-watering with a briny flavor and meaty texture.  The pita is unfailingly warm.

Mezedakia

5 December 2015: The saganaki, a slab of bubbly Green Kasseri cheese served with pita is far superior to the de rigueur cheesy fried mozzarella offered at chain restaurants. Crisp on the outside, soft and gooey on the outside, it is expertly pan-fried at your table then extinguished with a squeeze or two of lemon.  As with other Greek appetizers, saganaki is designed to be consumed in small amounts, as part of a large spread of small dishes.  The saganaki by itself won’t fill you up, but it will leave you sated.

Another intensely flavored appetizer is tarama, a carp roe spread.  I’ve heard tarama referred to as a “poor man’s caviar” and while I wouldn’t go that far myself, tarama is one of the most delicious things you can spread onto a piece of warm pita bread.  The name for this dish is derived from the Turkish taramas, which means “preserved roe,” and salata, Italian for “salad.”  The dish is made by blending the roe with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice to create a smooth, creamy paste,  then adding body to the paste with mashed potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs.

Saganaki set afire at our table

Some entrees include sides of Pepperonici and Kalamata olives, both of which are delicious. The Greek salad includes huge chunks of feta cheese, a sharp, fetid fromage. It also features red, ripe tomatoes, lettuce and a tangy Greek dressing that will enliven your taste buds. As with the gyros, the onions used on the salad are white onions which are much more flavorful than the seemingly more popular red onions.

Something else you can spread onto pita bread is potatoes. While that may sound somewhat unconventional, Greeks have long used potatoes as a vehicle for complementary ingredients.  In Skorthalia, an appetizer at Gyros Mediterranean, potatoes served cold and the consistency of mashed potatoes are blended with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and white wine.  The potatoes spread easily onto the pita bread and make for an interesting starter.

Patates

Dessert options include a bevy of baklava or baklava-like sweet treats, most resplendent in a honey sheen.  A nice alternative is the tongue-twisting Galaktoboureko, an inspired custard pie sandwiched between flaky phyllo dough baked until golden then drenched with a citrus-infused syrup.  Don’t buy the Homeric myth that the Trojan War started over Helen of Troy, the face that supposedly launched a thousand ships.  the Trojan War started over Galaktoboureko, an epic dessert!

Galaktoboureko, a tongue-twister name for a terrific dessert

Though this gastronome about town can now afford more than the cheap eats of my youth, I still return often to Cornell where some of the deliciously diverse diners that sated me in my poverty are still appeasing patrons of every wallet size.

Gyros Mediterranean
106 Cornell, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexican
(505) 255-4401
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 18 December 2016
# OF VISITS: 20
RATING: 19
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyros, Patates, Tarama, Galaktoboureko, Spanakipita, Saganaki

Gyros Mediterranean Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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