“Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.
Some turn their food into fat and manure,
some into work and good humor, and others, I’m told, into God.”
~Zorba the Greek
The most obvious theme of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel Zorba the Greek is that life should be lived to its fullest–that its pleasures should be pursued with a lusty vigor. The embodiment of that attitude was the eponymous, life-affirming protagonist Alexis Zorba whose unrestrained joie de vivre didn’t diminish with advancing geriatric progression. If anything, Zorba’s exuberance and appetite for the pleasures of the flesh become more pronounced with age. His passions were governed by his senses, not by social mores or even his own intellection.
In a sense Zorba’s attitude is encapsulated in Dionysus, the Greek god of the grape harvest, wine-making, wine, ritual madness and ecstasy. In the pantheon of Olympian gods, Dionysus may have been the most “human,” a god subject to mortal traits of impetuousness, irrationality and emotionality. His passions were expressed in such activities as dancing, drinking and eating. If there was a Greek god of revelry, drunkenness and inebriation, it, too, would have been Dionysus who frequented those physical states with ebullience as did Alexis Zorba.
Step into Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining at the Heights Village shopping center on Montgomery and Juan Tabo and the familiar sharp metallic sound of bouzouki music piped in through the restaurant’s sound system may inspire involuntary finger-snapping as you sashay over to a counter at which you place your order. It’s the least festive aspect of an otherwise mood-enlivening ambiance. The fragrance of aromatically enticing cuisine may elicit involuntary salivation and when you espy the desserts under glass maybe an effusive shout or two of “Opa.”
Since opening in May, 2010, Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining has established itself as a popular dining destination with guests visiting from throughout the Duke City. Most visit as much for familiar faces as they do for familiar tastes. Among the latter are such Greek standards as spanakopita, gyros, souvaki and dolmathes. The familiar faces belong to Sprios, Marina, Greg and Madeline Counelis whom Duke City diners will recognize from the storied Olympia Cafe across Central Avenue from the University of New Mexico. Sprios and Marina owned and operated the Olympia from 1972 through 2010.
Zorba’s is hardly a carbon copy of the Olympia Cafe. While both celebrate the Greek culture and its wondrous cuisine, Zorba’s bespeaks of modernity and newness. You might curse the fact that your last vacation wasn’t at the site of the large panoramic photograph which hugs the wall leading to the counter where you place your order. It depicts a tranquil seaside fishing village nestled against the azure Aegean Sea whose crystal clear, unusually blue waters put to shame the lighter blue ceiling. The close proximity seating is built more for functionality than it is for comfort.
The lunch menu is offered daily until 5PM though you can order off the much more expansive dinner menu at any time. Signage on the front door reminds you that Zorba is open “Never on A Sunday.” Okay, how many of you will even admit to being old enough to have seen the movie by that name? The dinner menu offers options that elevate the restaurant to a purveyor of fine Greek cuisine as opposed to another Greek eatery serving what may be characterized as fast food. Dinner includes a mariner’s bounty of seafood options. Both lunch and dinner are reasonably priced, the latter a bit more expensive.
Among the appetizer options is Taramasalata, pink roe caviar with olive oil blended into a smooth dip served with pita wedges. Taramasalata is often referred to as “poor man’s caviar” and often has an undertone of fishiness, but when made right, it’s quite good. As its etymology implies, Taramasalata is salted and cured, the former very obvious in Zorba’s rendition. It’s among the saltiest Taramasalata I can remember having. This appetizer is served with a generous amount of pita wedges for scooping up the smooth dip. Perhaps as a “chaser” to the saltiness of the Taramasalata, this meze also includes a bowl of tzatziki, the traditional Greek cucumber and garlic dip. It’s an excellent tzatziki.
As at many Greek restaurants, the most popular entree at Zorba’s are gyros, an amalgam of beef and lamb broiled on a vertical split then sliced and wrapped in a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce. The gyros are moist, tender and very well seasoned, but what enlivens them with flavor is the aforementioned tzatziki which is made of finely chopped cucumber and dill and mixed with natural yoghurt. The pita is literally bursting with ingredients and despite their moistness, it’s formidable enough not to disintegrate. It’s a good, pliable pita.
A nice alternative to the de rigueur gyros is a sandwich option most Duke City Greek restaurants don’t offer, but very well should. It’s a Greek Loukaniko, a uniquely savory, traditional Greek sausage wrapped in pita and topped with grilled onions with lemon wedges on the side. Just as the term “chorizo” seems to be used to describe any type of sausage in Latin America, Loukaniko is often used to describe all Greek sausages. The version proffered at Zorba’s seems to be an amalgam of pork and lamb with a tinge of fennel and a hint orange zest. It makes for a terrific sandwich. Squeeze the lemon wedge onto the sausage and the flavor profile changes.
Sandwiches are served with your choice of a Greek salad or French fries. The Greek salad features crisp greens topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, feta cheese and a single pepperoncini. There is so much fetid feta it blankets the salad like a fresh snowfall on a sidewalk. The French fries, seasoned generously with pepper, are fine, but the annoyingly difficult tiny packets of ketchup detracted from our enjoyment. When you’ve got hands the size of a catcher’s mitt, handling dainty little things like ketchup packets is a challenge.
I’ve long contended that green chile makes everything taste better and have validated that assertion by having green chile on pancakes, apple pie, pastrami sandwiches, spaghetti and so much more. At Zorba’s, I finally found the one item that green chile does not improve. That item is gyros (called Southwestern Gyros on the menu), but the fault could lie in the way the green chile is used on the gyro and not the gyro itself.
The chile is laid out in strips and not interspersed among the beef and lamb amalgam, but piled on top of it–layer upon layer of chile strips. Had the chile been chopped and strewn judiciously throughout the sandwich, the flavor distribution would have made much better sense. Worse, the gyro also included melted cheese (probably Cheddar), another topping you should never add to a gyro. Feta cheese yes, but gloppy melted yellow cheese no.
The premise of avgolemono is essentially a high quality chicken stock intensely infused with lemon juice and thickened with eggs. It’s a traditional (especially around Easter) Greek soup which is at once comforting, luxurious, and refreshing (thank the lemons for that). Made well, it’s a creamy concoction courtesy of the frothy, beaten eggs swirled into the chicken broth. It’s not always made well. The best aspect of the avgolemono at Zorba’s is that it’s served steaming hot. It’s not quite as lemony or even as “chickeny” as other avgolemono we’ve had, but because it’s served so hot, you’ll likely appreciate it much more on cold, blustery days.
Zorba’s also offers a bevy of desserts including my very favorite Greek sweet treat Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek dessert made with a lemon-kissed custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell. The portion size is nearly intimidating, especially after a Greek sandwich. It’s the size of a small brick, easily big enough to share (not that you’d want to). Other dessert options include baklava and a chocolate mousse.
Aristotle, another Greek who loved life, once said “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” We may not all live as exuberantly as Alexis Zorba, but a meal at Zorba’s Fine Greek Cuisine will certainly make you happy with some of its well executed dishes.
One word of warning: Although Zorba’s has a dog-friendly patio, your four-legged fur baby had better be on a leash or you won’t be dining with you. Our Dude, comfortably sitting on his stroller, was not allowed on the premises because we didn’t have a leash for him.
Zorba’s Fine Greek Cuisine
11225 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 08 December 2012
1st VISIT: 21 January 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Taramosalata, Gyros, Greek Loukaniko, Galaktoboureko
12 thoughts on “Zorba’s Fine Greek Dining – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Yo yourself BOTVOLR. OK I misspoke. There is still a restaurant at Luna Mansion but it is quite different from what it was years ago. As Gil pointed out the mansion was put up for sale in 2009. The new owners basically turned it into a steak house. Haven’t been there since Pete and Hortencia Torres took over. As I recall–and my memory is a sieve–the old menu was more interesting. You mentioned Casa Luna. I spent many a happy evening there many, many years ago–usually doing rigatoni but sometimes pizza. My friends and I liked it because they had a lot of good jazz on the jukebox.
Yo John L. Luna Mansion is defunct? I do it all the time…write something/look at it, but don’t “see” it. Luna Mansion of Los Lunas http://lunamansion.com/ still has there website up, can’t find anything on the online newspaper of their closing, and the phone still answers albeit it is just listing its hours at this time of the morning. Perhaps you were thinking of taking a juant down there for one of their steaks this weekend….https://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=161
The only other thing I can think of in terms of the olde Olympian on Central was Casa Luna which served pizza and spaghetti in days gone by.
Just had a light lunch at Zorba’s. It was a great experience. Good food and great service. We had eaten at the Olympia Café when Spiros still owned it were quite impressed. Zorba’s brought back memories of the fine food and friendly staff.
We had a long chat with Spiros and Marina. Both were welcoming and friendly.
The calamari was excellent–reminded us if what they used to serve at the now defunct Luna Mansion. The gyros sandwich was packed with meat. We’ll be back. Unfortunately they no longer serve Taramosalata. Spiros said most people didn’t like it and it was a bit pricey.
We’ll be back to try some of their other offerings.
Growing up in Chicago, my neighbors across the street were Greek and I got to enjoy a lot of delicious home cooked meals from them. Easter was especially a blast and a culinary delight! We went to visit them last year for Easter and it was wonderful to have all of that home cooked Greek food and Easter goodies again. It was awesome being able to share that with my children as well. I will definitely check Zorba’s out per your recommendation. Keem em’ comming!
Gil, did you ever visit Koury’s deli on Osuna (near Monroe’s)? It was in a strip mall that used to (maybe still does)include a Domino’s Pizza. I bring Koury’s up only because they had a green chile gyro that was ACES. Homemade pita, plenty of lamb/beef, feta, tzatziki, and green chile. The chile had a delightful amount of heat and fresh-roasted flavour. It was chopped -but certainly didn’t come from a can – and strewn liberally throughout the sandwich. Koury’s closed several years ago, and I desperately miss that green chile gyro. So you see, it _can_ be done. Though, it sounds as if Zorba’s definitely doesn’t do it.
When we moved back to Albuquerque in 1995, we had the great fortune of living within easy walking distance of Koury’s Deli and Monroe’s. As often as we visited (as much for the wonderful Greek food as for gourmet cheeses and deli items), I don’t remember ever having had the green chile gyro. I’ll bet it wasn’t made with gloppy yellow cheese.
Mary Ann Koury, one of the former owners, passed away in 2011.
Gil, You must have had a peaceful life dining in the lap of luxury until the day you started this blog to educate the great unwashed masses such as myself. I freely admit that when I was younger I noticed that “old folks” tended to be incredibly sweet and kind or very grumpy and that I have become the grumpy. Were I you I would delete my comments here as well as well as Ms. George’s and forever banish both of us from ever commenting again. That way you can dine to your heart’s delight without that knot in your gut. At least I didn’t accuse you of being on drugs.
The last thing this blog needs is a phalanx of clones agreeing with my every observation on every restaurant I write about. A little dissent is a good thing. Your sometimes spirited, always interesting and very enlightening comments bring a lot to this blog and I’m certainly not the only person who appreciates your observations.
Blogs are intended to create a broader conversation and over the years Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog has become a community thanks to the willingness to express yourselves of great people like you, Bob of the Village People, Bruce Schor, Larry McGoldrick, John Lucas and too many others to mention. I’m grateful for all of you and would only be offended if you stopped sharing your commentary.
Many congratulations, Jim, on achieving the 100 comment milestone heretofore done only twice before. Thank you for adding so much to this blog.
Dining should be a sensory delight in every way.
Of course you can’t “eat” the scenery nor the ambiance but both can make or break a dining experience.
I have often said that one of Gil’s strongest and most admirable traits as a reviewer is to dine at the establishment more than just once.
However some impressions last and last. An owner with an attitude can be a greater detriment to the dining experience than the quality and taste of the food served and certainly can be a deal killer.
Your comment “so go back to your cookie cutter chain stores” speaks more to your lack of knowledge about Mr. Millington and his culinary knowledge than your knowledge of good and bad food and dining.
You eat, Mr. Millington dines.
Sounds more like sour grape leaves than Greek to me.
Food rated 12 combined with an experience rated a 2 averages out to 7, not a very good rating, eh?
Marie, the kitchen noise has nothing to do with my comments. I did not post earlier because Gil just reviewed it. If you click on the Urban Spoon link above or go to Yelp you will note that for several months after they opened more than half of the reviewers blasted the way they were treated by the owners. I don’t pay much attention to what the general public thinks of the food. I form my own opinion and 12 or 13 is a low rating. Lately those reviews about owner conduct have gone away (probably because of the reviews). If businesses have to be told that customers don’t like to be treated badly (or cheated like a certain national electronics company does) they have lost my business forever. No, I have no tie to any other Greek restaurant and rarely go to any of them. I can also guarantee that I am not ignorant.
Jim… you rate the food as a 12 or 13 but will never go back? The broad negative comments show that either there is an obvious bias for some other Greek place or you are ignorant. Who on earth posts a reply after a couple of years (…We were there once a couple of months after it opened…)? The place has been there for 2 years already. If the owner was as bad as you say, this restaurant should be out of business by now. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there and heard loud voices from the kitchen but I put it off as normal restaurant sounds. Sometimes you have to yell to be heard over the clanging of pots and pans. Also, cooks yell!! There is alot of stress related to getting food ready and to the table in a timely manner. Have you ever watched “Hell’s Kitchen”? NO ONE yells at their customers if they want to survive in this business. Every restaurant in town who is owner operated has had this kind of comment posted. So go back to your cookie cutter chain stores or stay home and eat. Me, I’m going back there again. And, if there’s some loud voices, whatever. Sound like Greek to me.
We were there once a couple of months after it opened. There is no chance that there will ever be a second time. The food was worth a 12 or 13 but the hostile attitude of the owner assured that we will never return. Everyone has a bad day sometimes but this was so far beyond a bad day that there is no reason to to even explain to them that you don’t treat customers like that. I have heard of customers who liked it but a enough agree with me that it is hard to believe it was an isolated occurrence. There are hundreds of restaurants in Albuquerque and every one of them is better than Zorba’s. I don’t believe in open bad mouthing of restaurants ( a difficult business at best) but this is one exception.