According to UrbanDictionary.com, Opa is “the Greeks’ way of stating they have come to a level of serene exuberance able to enjoy life as children. … In a state where having been fed, and having quenched our thirst, and having enjoyed the pleasure of uniting with others, we have filled with hope and confidence that life abounds with all that we need, … and that food will always be there, … and so, we break the plates, … because tomorrow there will be more. … And we light a fire and dance around it as a symbol of the warmth that surrounds us.”
This definition really sums up the experience I had with my mom and my sisters the other night. Being of Greek descent, we decided to go to a traditional Greek restaurant to celebrate Mom’s birthday. Since myself and one of my sisters are vegan, we were a little bit leary of our choice. I actually brought some vegan snacks for the car ride home in case I was starving from a lack of selection at the restaurant.
But, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The restaurant is called Yianni’s Taverna in Bethlehem, PA. It is a cute little restaurant, tucked behind the road right by the mountain. From the outside, you would think it was just an average place, but once you walk in, you feel like you are transported to the Greek Isles. It has a fresh, clean atmosphere, with bright cobalt blue chairs and decor set against the clean white walls and curtains. Gorgeous decorative glass bottles adorn the walls. The menu is classic Greek fare, reminiscent of my childhood family gatherings. Pastisio, Moussaka, Feta cheese, Ovgalemeno soup (chicken soup made with lemon juice)…. all there reminding me of happy times as a child. All that is wonderful, but “um…what am we going to eat now that we are vegan?” My sister and I said to each other. Well, here comes the best part of the evening.
From the moment we sat down, our server Janet led us through the menu through a vegan lens. She recommended so many amazing options that our heads were spinning from all the choices! It was terrific to be in that situation because usually when I go out to eat, I am limited to 2 things – the baked potato (dry) and the salad (with oil and vinegar) :-). Here is what we decided on (I wish the pictures were a little brighter!):
We started out with the Melitzanosalata, which is an eggplant, garlic, olive oil and vinegar spread with fresh, warm pita triangles for dipping. The pita bread came out with cheese on it and immediately, Janet noticed it and went back in the kitchen and brought out some pita that did not have cheese. My other sister and my mom ate the pita with the cheese and then my other sister and I ate the pita without the cheese! It was perfect.
The Gigantes were next (giant beans). These are enormous lima beans that are braised in a tangy tomato sauce. They are so tasty! The beans are hearty and yet creamy and comforting. This was my favorite of the night. The sauce was so delicious I even dipped the leftover pita bread in it. YUM!
Next, Janet recommended a pasta dish that wasn’t even on the menu. Since 80% of the menu is made fresh to order, they insisted that they could accommodate us with many different meals that would be customized to our liking and our food choices. Janet recommended pasta with mushrooms and spinach tossed with a light oil. It was really delicious.
And last, but not least, was the Spanakorizo (Spanish rice). It was a combination of baby spinach, rice, tomato and lemon. It was a lovely combination of earthy (from the spinach) and bright (from the lemon) flavors. It was especially good mixed with the Gigantes.
For dessert, Janet brought my mom her baklava (complete with baklava ICE CREAM!) with a candle so that she could make a wish on her special day. She also brought us these amazing little treats called Loukoumades, which are little fried dough puffs. They did not contain any milk or eggs, she assured us, although the sauce that was drizzled over the little puffs did have honey, which technically is not vegan. I did try them though (progress, not perfection!) and they were ridiculously good. Next time I go, I will just ask that they not drizzle sauce on! And as accommodating as they were, I am sure that would not be a problem!
As we sampled our delicious food and talked about family memories (the owner even knew our dad, which was just so cool. He passed away back in 2005 and any opportunity to discuss his memory is a great comfort). The general manager came over and asked us how everything was, to which we explained what a terrific time we had and how we couldn’t wait to come back and sample other great menu items. We chatted with Janet a little bit too. What a cool lady! She mentioned how her daughter is excited to be a part of the culinary world (with a dynamic mom who really knows her stuff, I can see why).
I can’t wait to go back to Yianni’s. Next time I will take my husband there for date night. It is such a gorgeous place with a really wonderful ambiance. And I will call ahead to see if Janet will be working. She will certainly fill my table with awesome vegan food again. I am sure of it.