Greek to Me 

Finding spanakopita far from the Aegean.

Kwik Chek’s spanakopita

Justin Fox Burks

Kwik Chek’s spanakopita

There's comfort food, and then there's comfort food. For some, it's a warm bowl of chicken and dumplings. For others, home tastes like a cup of creamy mac and cheese. For me, it's always been spanakopita: a Greek phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. When I bite through that flaky crust and arrive at the savory, spinachy center, I have been known to forget my own name. So in preparation for the Memphis Greek Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church May 9th-10th, I set out to find the best spanakopita in town. Like Ulysses before me, I determined "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

For whatever reason, Greek food in Memphis tends to cluster around the intersection of Poplar and Mendenhall. To wit, there is more spanakopita in the shadow of Clark Tower than you'll find for a hundred miles in any direction.

At Petra Café's new location in Sanderlin Centre, fans of Indiana Jones will instantly recognize the wall-sized photograph that presides over this quaint cafe. Petra is the city in present-day Jordan carved into a sandstone canyon where Harrison Ford had to find the Holy Grail and beat the Nazis.

The filling in Petra's spanakopita ($3.50) is herbed and tangy, with hearty chunks of feta mixed throughout. The crust is golden-brown and flaky.

Petra is also known for its sandwiches. I recommend the Zesty Petra Gyro ($8.99), a satisfying blend of grilled beef and lamb topped with mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers.

Petra Café, 5101 Sanderlin (505-2812)

Ciao Bella's spanakopita ($8) can best be described as "deep-dish" — i.e., more filling, less crust. That appeals to some, but I prefer Ciao Bella's Fig Prosciutto Flatbread ($20), a delicious sauceless pizza finished with arugula, gorgonzola, and a tangy balsamic drizzle.

FYI, for those who might get a hankering for the pastry while watching the latest blockbuster: Ciao Bella's spanakopita as well as many of its other dishes are available at the Ridgeway Cinema Grill.

Ciao Bella, 565 Erin (205-2500)

click to enlarge Spanakopetakia at Jim’s Place - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Spanakopetakia at Jim’s Place

For my taste, Jim's Place does it best. Rather than preparing their spanakopita as a pie and serving slices, they serve "spanakopetakia" ($8.50), or spinach puffs. Each bite-sized triangle is individually wrapped in a layered, flaky crust. The filling is delicious, but, really, I can't say enough about that crust: light and sunny, like a trip to Mykonos. Pair it with the souflima ($17.95), an original recipe that features succulent rotisserie pork on a bed of rice pilaf with tomato sauce.

Jim's Place, 518 Perkins Ext. (766-2030)

click to enlarge Kwik Chek’s spanakopita - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Kwik Chek’s spanakopita

I never would have expected to find spanakopita at Kwik Chek, the converted convenience store on Madison. But there it was, staring up at me from a deli counter sandwiched between racks of potato chips and energy drinks.

Owner Sue Choi is a Korean whose ex-husband is Greek, so the menu is all over the place. Would you like some falafel with your bibimbap? How about a gyro with your pajeon? And yet the spanakopita ($3.99) is tasty. It may not be the best in town, but the crust is admirable, and if there were an award for exceeding expectations, Kwik Chek would win it, hands-down.

Kwik Chek, 2013 Madison (274-9293)



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