Greek to Me
Bring on the pita for Vera’s savory spreads
by Gay Lyons
A gas station seems an unlikely place to go for Greek food, but Vera Pantanizopoulos-Broux is dishing up Greek treats and more at the Deli at the Big Orange Chevron on Chapman Highway, across from Baptist Hospital. It’s strictly a take-out place, open 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Recently, a friend and I sampled several items from the menu of hot dogs, cold sandwiches, salads and spreads.
The all-beef hot dogs include a BLT dog, a BBQ slaw dog and a Greek dog. There’s also a veggie dog. Fifteen toppings allow for a great deal of customization with condiments ranging from the basic (sauerkraut) to the exotic (red pepper eggplant spread). The BLT dog, wrapped in a slice of bacon with fresh diced tomato, onion and lettuce, intrigued me as did the veggie dog, to which I envisioned adding feta cheese and the red pepper eggplant spread, but we selected the Greek dog, which comes with chopped onion, crumbled feta cheese and tzatziki, a spread made from cucumbers, garlic and yogurt.
Next we turned to the “Cold Sandwiches (and a pie!)” section of the menu. Three sandwiches are offered, all served on ciabatta bread. The chicken salad sandwich, featuring Vera’s homemade chicken salad served with fresh spinach, and the tuna salad sandwich, also served with spinach, sounded appetizing as did the feta sandwich, consisting of slices of feta cheese, tomato and onion. Continuing with our Greek theme, we selected spanikopita, which is the “pie” listed with the sandwiches. We were given two options—having the pie heated in a microwave at the deli or heating it elsewhere in an oven. If at all possible, choose the latter option as pastry doesn’t microwave well.
There are three salads: Greek salad, a mixed greens salad and chickpea-radish salad. Forgoing the Greek salad was not easy, but we decided on the chickpea-radish salad because we both love radishes. Moving to the fourth and final category, the list of spreads sounded so good we would have had trouble selecting just one, but fortunately we did not have to. The pikilia, a platter of cold appetizers, includes tzatziki, hummus, baba ganoush and dolma along with black olives, feta cheese, a chunk of ciabatta bread and a piece of pita bread.
Lots of people love baklava, but, frankly, it’s usually too sweet for my taste, so I didn’t have a hard time passing up the large pieces of baklava on display at the deli counter. However, I didn’t make it past the tiny little triangles next to the gas station’s cash register. At 50 cents it was the right price and the right size for a sample.
Once home, we popped the spanikopita in the oven and started on the pikilia platter. The tzatziki was excellent, just the right creamy consistency with the yogurt, garlic and cucumber perfectly blended so that all three were evident but no one flavor was overpowering. The smooth, savory baba ganoush, made of pureed roasted eggplant and spices, was some of the best I’ve tasted. The mild hummus suffered in comparison with the tzatziki and the baba ganoush because these last two were so superb. I’d have added a lot more crushed garlic and a little more lemon juice to the hummus for extra bite. The dolma (rice-stuffed grape leaves) tasted like all others I’ve eaten locally—which is to say perfectly fine but nothing distinctive. The fresh and pungent feta cheese was very good spread on the ciabatta bread.
The biggest problem we had was that we ran out of pita bread too quickly. It’s frustrating to have lots of delicious spreads left—and nothing to spread them on. We scrounged up some toasted rounds and some flatbread crackers, but I would like to have had more pita.
Within a few minutes, we added our warmed pie to the feast. The lightly seasoned spinach and feta cheese were pleasingly complemented by the delicate layers of flaky pastry. The Greek dog was a “knife and fork” dog, with the tasty wiener sprinkled with onions and feta cheese and drenched in creamy tzatziki. I could not have eaten it with my hands—at least not in front of anyone. The chickpea-radish salad was an attractive, vibrant mix of chickpeas, finely diced radishes, parsley, feta cheese and onions tossed in a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. My friend and I agreed that we’d like to have had more radish bits in the salad, but there was probably enough to satisfy anyone but us radish fanatics. The baklava was more pleasing than most because the cinnamon was not overwhelmed by the syrup.
Prices are reasonable. A basic hot dog costs just $1. At slightly under $5, the pikilia is the most expensive item on the menu. The variety of toppings makes this a fun place to satisfy a hot dog craving, but the best news is that the spreads—including the exceptionally good tzatziki and baba ganoush—are available in quart-sized containers.