Saturday, August 23, 2008

Greek Out- Niko Niko's

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 7:16 PM

By Andrea Afra

If you are from Houston, then you have heard of Niko Niko’s. You’ve probably been there a few times and you could be one of hundreds of regular customers that flock to this fixture of a Greek restaurant. As of May 1st, Niko Niko’s will be celebrating its 29th birthday.
There is a key reason for its lasting so long- the food is consistently good. People know that there may be new restaurants popping up every day and it’s always fun to try new things. Yet it’s nice to know that, without fail, Niko Niko’s will always be there to provide a quick, healthy meal. Then again, there are plenty of ways a meal can start out healthy and end up guilt-inducing.
After twenty something years of building notoriety one problem became more than evident. If the restaurant was to remain a success, they had to do expand. Opting for renovating the building instead of opening another location, blueprints were drawn up to build out and still keep the place open for business. Loyal customers ignored the construction and cheered the company on as they added more tables, enclosed the old patio and gave the place a much needed makeover.  What once was a very ‘mom and pop’ style building was revamped into a well polished diner. You still order your food from the cashier and receive it on paper plates with plasticware. The same faces greet you each time you come back because the staff is happy and well taken care of. It’s just a little nicer now.
                I remember my first time at Niko Niko’s, over ten years ago. I was a vegetarian and ordered a hummus plate but what I remember was my first impression of the bread. I had never had pita bread before. The pita wedges served with the dip were lightly toasted and chewy. It’s good to know that some things will never change. Their bread is still divine, one of life’s little pleasures. I will fight dirty for the last slice so I’ve learned to save face and order an extra side.
It would take all day for me to tell you about all of the different foods I’ve had here but needless to say there hasn’t been one dish that I didn’t like. The salads are good but the dressing makes them great. The beef souvlaki is tender and perfectly marinated. The lemon-infused baked potatoes are heart-achingly good while the hand cut fries will forever be my weakness.
For those of you who either haven’t discovered Niko Niko’s or have gotten stuck on one favorite dish, you’ll find a lot of great food on the menu if you’ll just give it a try. They even have a new fried calamari recipe that will really impress you. In no particular order here are a few of my top picks:

Kreato Soupa- a hearty comfort food, several notches above an everyday vegetable beef stew

Greek Salad- a large slab of Feta cheese and the killer Greek dressing make for a stinky yet excellent starter

Hummus- Blended with fresh parsley for color and a hint of flavor, an extra kick of lemon really ‘Greekifies’ this version of hummus

Souvlaki Sandwich- lovely chunks of juicy beef with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, a cucumber-yogurt sauce
Fried Fish Kid’s Meal- Awesomely battered white fish filets atop a pile of home fries, big enough for you take a few bites from your kiddo.

Souzoukakia- Big Greek meatballs in tomato sauce and Feta cheese make this home-style dish a garlicky favorite of mine.

Galaktoboureko- For dessert you can try to conquer a huge brick of custard and flaky fillo dough topped with cinnamon and a honey sauce. Oh my lands, this is the man of my dreams in dessert form. Big, sweet and rich!

Greek coffee- Anywhere, anytime, this mainstay is a dark little devil that will give you a great pick me up, especially after trying to tackle such a mighty meal.
                Niko Niko’s has stamina, a steely yet flexible backbone that is the product of the matriarch that established the place firmly in its foundation. Dimitri, son of the original owners, Chrisanthio and Eleni Fetokakis, has the business firmly by the reins but his mother still has him by his. She comes in regularly to cook and greet the customers. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen her, silver bowl in hand, drizzling honey syrup over her famous sticky sweet Loukoumades, or Greek Honey Balls.
                The history of Niko Niko’s runs deep. It started as a walk-up gyro stand built on the grounds of an old gas station. After immigrating toCanada, Eleni began singing in Greek nightclubs around the States. You can easily still see the young Grecian beauty from the black and white photos in the eyes and smile of Eleni today. Her second marriage to a restaurateur in the US sealed her fate behind the stove when she and her husband opened the little Greek food hut. She was literally born into the restaurant business when her mother went into labor at her father’s restaurant in Greece. As she grew up she learned most of the recipes found on the menu at Niko Niko’s. Eventually her son Dimitri bought the restaurant and after a few years renovated it to hold more hungry people, where they ate happily ever after.
                Happy birthday Niko Niko’s. You’ve come a long way.

520 Montrose Blvd, Houston, 77006 - (713) 528-1308