Kalamata Kitchen reinvents itself as a café
by Gay Lyons
I’ve confessed before that I tend to dine in my neighborhood, which has an east-west boundary that runs from downtown to Ali Baba’s Time Out Deli. There are restaurants that are worth extra travel time—Northshore Brasserie, Edison Park, Vera’s Deli, Senõr Taco and Pizza Palace to name a few, but when time is tight, I stay in the neighborhood.
The old Kalamata Kitchen was a restaurant I considered worth the drive to Farragut. While I was initially disappointed that the restaurant was not more authentically Greek, I appreciated the Greek-inspired menu and was sad when it closed. So it was good news to hear that Jim and Lori Klonaris have opened Kalamata Café, which serves some of the previous restaurant’s specialties, including their signature chicken lemon soup, in a more casual setting.
Kalamata Café is cheerful and vibrant, with lots of the familiar Kalamata black and gold. My friend Wendy, who accompanied me to lunch there, called it a “rebranding” of Kalamata Kitchen’s look. The silk grass divider and the tables and booths in various sizes make the room cozy. The harlequin patterned tabletops and large acrylic paintings give it pizzazz.
Kalamata Café is a “fast casual” restaurant. You order at the counter, but your food is brought to you. The posted menu includes salads, a couple of soups, lots of dips, Greek style pizzas, wraps and paninis and entrees such as souvlaki and pasta.
In the mood to sample, we ordered the “trio of dips” and selected fiery roasted red pepper hummus, tzatziki and baba ghanooj as our three. It was difficult to refrain from ordering dolmathes, keftedes, spanakopita and tyropita. I have a feeling that had “trio of maza” been an option, there is no way we would have been able to resist that.
I considered ordering the Santorini Island Salad, a tantalizing combination of romaine, almonds, apricots, red onion, fresh mango, dried cranberries and caramelized pineapple, but we decided to select a couple of entrees with side Greek salads instead since we both had good memories of the Greek salad at Kalamata Kitchen.
The minute I saw pastitsio on the menu, I developed a craving for it. I could almost taste the creamy béchamel sauce and the distinctively seasoned ground beef, so I was disappointed to learn that it was not available that day. Having gotten carried away with a vivid taste fantasy, nothing else sounded as good. I finally ordered Makaronia Despina because I remembered this as a favorite from before.
We ordered a gyro as our other entrée. All the wraps come with a choice of sauce: tzatziki, pesto mayonnaise and lemon-sesame sauce. Even though we had already ordered tzatziki as one of our dips, we ordered tzatziki with our gyro because Wendy and I both agree that you just can’t have too much tzatziki in your life.
Our dips arrived quickly, which was a good thing. Everything else arrived very quickly afterwards, which was not a good thing. Not only did it completely fill the table, but the pasta and the gyro cooled while we enjoyed the dips, which came with warm, soft pita. The tzatziki was very good, thick and creamy with little cucumber pieces. The baba ghanooj was different, less opaque than usual, with a distinct hint of citrus mixed with the eggplant. The fiery hummus did not seem terribly fiery at first, but it developed more bite as we continued eating it.
The Greek salads were fresh, crisp and topped with lots of crumbled feta. The dressing had a strong oregano punch. The gyro, served with deliciously warm homemade potato chips, was made of the same good pita wrapped around tender, thinly sliced, well-seasoned beef and lamb. The pasta was disappointing. The rather chewy penne, roasted artichokes and tomatoes topped with shaved parmesan was OK, but not as special as I remembered. To be fair, I may have been suffering from post-pastitsio fantasy syndrome, or it may have been that the pasta suffered from the wait while we ate dips and salads.
We stayed away from the bakery treats, but it was a very appealing display. I prefer pastry that is not so sweet, so I was glad to see some of that variety, which would go well with one of the iced coffees.
If I lived or worked in the south Northshore area, I can imagine dropping by Kalamata Café fairly regularly for lunch or to pick up some dips, especially the tzatziki. I’ll go back to see if the pastitsio is worth the drive, but I’ll call before I go.