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In the early 1980s, I lived a year in London. While London is best known for its Indian restaurants, a cuisine I love, I learned that perhaps the best ethnic food downtown (at that time, at least) was actually Greek. The local bistros in Piccadilly and Oxford Circuses served up spicy, beautifully prepared, fresh meals. That experience, capped by a week’s holiday on Rhodos, cemented my love for Greek food (and an appreciation for Retsina, but that’s another story altogether).
Fast forward 30 years, I’m living in Trenton and there’s barely a Greek restaurant within spitting distance. Except Mikonos, which was recommended to me by a friend. I’ve now eaten most of the offerings on the menu, and while I have a few reservations, I’m happy to recommend it. It offers tasty, authentic Greek cooking that ranges from OK to sublime, depending on the dish.
Let’s get the key reservation out of the way. On Rhodos, I fell in love with the cuisine focused on fresh, local foods. A simple Greek salad, made up of ingredients all locally grown and obviously just picked — lettuce, tomato, cucumber, scallions, dill, and home-made feta, simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar — was one of the high points of my formative culinary experience.
Mikonos restaurant offers nothing like that. The salad you get is kind of a NJ throw-away: chopped up California iceburg lettuce, onion, and tomato with a little feta and dried dill sprinkled on top. While there is the occasional special, most of the menu is intensively cooked: stewed, baked, or fried. You get the sense that a lot of it was cut out of a pan and heated up for your order. It’s tasty. It’s good. It’s worth ordering and eating. But it’s not the transcendent, fresh cuisine that Greek can be at it’s best. Instead, sometimes you feel like you’re eating left-overs.
OK, with that out of the way, let’s talk about what we like about Mikonos. The Greek specialites are well cooked. Overall, I preferred the vegetarian preparations to the meat ones. Several of these show up as “appetizers” on the menu, though they come in fairly hefty portions (and price tags). A great way go to Mikonos is in a group of 3 or more persons, and ordering several appetizers (and sharing entrees).
Check out the Papoutsakia entree shown in the header image: an eggplant stuffed with vegetables, topped with a bechemel sauce and kefalograviera cheese. “K cheese” is new to me, and turns out to be a hard, sheep or goat’s milk cheese from the northern part of Greece, near the Albanian border, tasting a bit like a cross between feta and an aged cheddar. Mikonos employs it in a number of dishes to outstanding effect.
One such appetizer is the “Saganaki Flambee”. This is a wedge of warm K cheese, drenched in Ouzo, then flambeed. Your server douses the flames with the juice of a lemon. The two liquids blend into a remarkably tasty combination, and contrast with the smoky, soft, warm cheese to produce something flavored like welsh rarebit. Fab.
K cheese is also an ingredient in the Kolokithokefthethes, deep fried zucchini croquettes. Hot, crispy on the outside, and very spicy. Quite rich, perhaps a bit over-salted, but another fun appetizer worth sharing.
The Gigantes appetizer is particularly good: a giant lima bean stew prepared in a red-wine marinara sauce. Delicious and one of the few vegan-friendly dishes on the menu. Vegetarians can get an outstanding meal at Mikonos. Vegans will struggle because cheeses (K plus feta) are widely employed in many of the dishes. For example, the red peppers stuffed with a creamy feta cheese spread made with fiery hot peppers.
The spanakopita (feta/spinach pie) is fine, but nothing to write home about. The first time I visited Mikonos, my portion looked like it had been sitting around a day too long, though it tasted OK, if not particularly fresh. The hummus is OK, even good, but you can do better at some of the local (much cheaper) Afghan dives in the area. The tazatziki is outstanding: made with super-thick Greek yogurt, cucumbers, dill, and garlic. It can be bought as an appetizer, and comes as a relish with a number of other dishes.
For carnivores, the two main dishes on the menu are Moussaka and Pastitsio. Moussaka (center of the image) is a traditional layered dish made from spiced, ground meat, covered with a layer of sliced potatoes, and then topped with a thick layer of bechemel sauce. It’s then baked. Pastisio (right) is another layered, baked dish. The main layer is elbow macaroni and ground meat, again topped with the bechemel. Mikonos does OK with both dishes. The more traditional (and to my mind flavorful) recipe uses ground lamb (or goat); Mikonos uses beef. The two dishes are VERY similar: the bechamel is the same; the ground beef is the same. The only difference is between the macaroni filling or a layer of potatoes (which was undercooked in my portion). For that reason, I’d suggest ordering one or the other (take your choice) and avoid the “Liga Apa Ola” combination platter, which features both. The “Ola Mazi” vegetarian combination platter is recommended, though check with your server if you’re ordering appetizers so as not to duplicate.
Surprisingly, for a restaurant named after a Greek Island, there is very little seafood on the menu: only a fried calamari appetizer and a seafood salad which I haven’t tried, but features mostly (exclusively?) fried seafood.