I love Greek food. I have history with Greek food as well as personal experience making it from scratch. My wife is Greek. My son is half Greek. Greek food is close to home and a point of pride for my family. It truly is simple food, but that recognition in the name of the restaurant is about the only thing that the Simple Greek gets right. It’s a small chain restaurant that seems to be doing well enough to open a bunch of new restaurants across the country, which is why I’m not pulling any punches. I just can’t understand how this chain is spreading when the food served is some of the worst Greek-style food I have ever tasted. Currently, The Simple Greek is to Greek food what instant coffee is to coffee. Nonetheless, the business concept behind the chain is actually a good idea, so I’m going to write this review like an open letter to The Simple Greek to ask them to fix their problems so that the restaurant can grow into what it could and should be. I’m legitimately worried that people who have never tried Greek food might think that what the Simple Greek serves is actually a representation of good Greek food when it isn’t.
The Simple Greek
73 Highland Ave.
East Providence, RI 02914
Dear The Simple Greek:
When my friend told me that a new Greek restaurant opened up in the area, I cannot explain how excited I was to hear the news. Finally, a place to get Greek food that is fast and near by! As a new parent, I convinced my wife to spend one of our precious daring moments of leaving the house for lunch with our child at the Simple Greek. We arrived on a sunny day with high hopes and optimism.
Service and Atmosphere
We entered the restaurant which was clean enough, but a little crowded. We found an open table among the few that were there and I went to place our order. I saw, in front of me, one of the great sights any person can see in anticipation of a meal – the vertical rotisseries that cook the rotating gyro meat! My taste buds were positively electric at the prospect of eating freshly cooked and sliced gyro instead of the gyro strips that most places in the area serve. Of course, this would be my first great disappointment, but I will get to that a little later…
The menu was as simple as the name of the restaurant advertised and as I walked up to the counter, I could see the foods ready for service. The quick service counter featured pre-made items such as salad greens, dips, sides, toppings, and even the meats for the sandwiches. Oddly, all cold.
The service was acceptable and the people friendly. There just seemed to be a lot of confusion going on in the background with people yelling out side orders and other people not knowing which customer ordered what.
Before I ordered, I knew I wanted to try a bit of everything. I noticed spanakopita (spinach pies) and tiropita (cheese pies) on the menu. Then I saw them sitting cold in a plastic case near the register like they were day old chocolate chip cookies at a deli. They didn’t look appetizing at all and I immediately decided to pass on them even though they are usually one of my favorite Greek savory pastries. That was the first sign that maybe we were in for some trouble.
Instead, I opted for the classic gyro sandwich (I mean, how could that go wrong, right?) and my wife chose the gyro over salad instead of a sandwich. I then got excited once again when I saw that the dolmades (grape leaves) contained meat as well as rice! That’s rare in fast-service style restaurants, which usually just offer vegetarian or, even worse, canned grape leaves, which are inedible. The fact that they had meat in them made me imagine that they had to be fresh. Lastly, I was intrigued by the Greek fries, so I ordered those as well.
Gyro Sandwich – Sadness. That’s all I felt when I bit into my sandwich. Normally, biting into a gyro is one of the great joys of life. The Simple Greek took that away from me for one meal. The pita was cold and stiff to the point that it seemed about to crack in the center if bent too much. The thick cut red onions permeated every bite in a way that stole the show. The clunky tomato slices fell out of the sandwich at every opportunity and were the only thing filling out the sandwich. The tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce) had almost no flavor. The biggest offender by far showed up in the form of a thin layer of cold gyro meat. Why? WHY? That’s all I could ask myself as I pushed through eating the sandwich. Why would you do this, The Simple Greek? The vertical rotisseries were right there! I saw them! Are they just for show? I’ve been to restaurants that cut the meat fresh to order right off the rotisserie. I’ve been to Greek festivals that serve thousands of people a day that cut the meat fresh and keep it warm for service! They even heat up the pita! Why else would you even bother with the machinery to cook the gyro if you’re just going to serve it cold? Just get the gyro strips and heat them up to order if that’s the case, because let me tell you, the cold gyro meat you served me was worse than any gyro strip (which honestly aren’t that bad when you need a gyro fix) or any gyro I’ve ever had.
My recommendation: Thin slice your onions and consider using sweet onion instead of red if you want to use a lot of onion. Thin slice your tomatoes so that they stay in the sandwich. Make or order a better tzatziki sauce that actually has some flavor (i.e. whole fat yogurt, salt, garlic, cucumber, and maybe mint or basil if you’re feeling fancy). Warm the pita before making a sandwich. Lastly, serve warm or hot gyro meat and be a little more generous with the amount of meat. Cut it fresh from the rotisserie to order when it’s crispy outside or keep it in a heated pan until service if you have to. Other restaurants and amateurs do it, so there’s really no excuse why you can’t.
Gyro Salad – I’ve expounded enough on the failures of the cold gyro meat above, so let’s talk about the salad that the paltry amount of gyro meat rested on. Once again, the chunky vegetables struck in the form of the “Village Salad.” They’re basically the same vegetable shapes that have no business being in a gyro, but covered in an overly sweet Greek-style dressing. But hey, it’s a salad bowl, so that’s forgivable and maybe some people like sweet dressings. What’s unforgivable is when the restaurant is super stingy with dips and sauces. The salad comes with two ice cream scoops of a side like hummus or tzatziki. The scoop is absurdly small (which turns out to be a blessing). It’s so small that the employee looked at me awkwardly when she put the first mini-scoop in the bowl and said, “If you want more, you can order both scoops the same.” So I did just that and ordered both scoops as hummus just so there was some hummus in the bowl. What followed was some of the worst hummus I’ve ever tasted. In fact, I’m fairly certain it was either really unfresh or rotten. It was so bad, I insisted that my wife not allow our son to taste it because it could ruin hummus for his developing taste buds.
My recommendation: Hummus isn’t hard to make. There are thousands of recipes online that are all better than what you’ve got going on behind the counter. Otherwise, just order the hummus from somewhere (or somewhere else if you’re not making it in-house). Anything from the grocery store would be better than the clay-like and unfresh (maybe even cheesy) goop you’re serving now. Then when the hummus is edible and fresh, get a bigger scoop to use. Go lighter on the sugar in the dressing, chop the vegetables better, warm up the gyro meat, and you’ll have something worth ordering.
Dolmades – Flavorless. Cold. Tough. Sour. Those are just some of the descriptive words that come to mind after trying The Simple Greek’s grape leaves. I’m not sure where to begin with these. I just don’t understand why they’re cold or why the filling has meat in it when the meat has no flavor whatsoever. The outer grape leaf wrapping was on the tough side, which means they need to be cooked longer. As far as where the sour flavor comes in, I can only guess that the reason three small grape leaves are served with three large lemon wedges is because a whole lemon wedge is needed to cut through the tough green taste of the leaves and to add some flavor to the cold, flavorless meat. I’m especially sad about these because clearly there’s effort involved in making the stuffed grape leaves even if the effort doesn’t pay off. Mostly, I’m sad that people who don’t know what grape leaves are will almost assuredly get turned off by these for life.
My recommendation: Unless you can get these absolutely perfect and are willing to serve them hot with a side of good tzatziki, I think it’s best if you just remove them from the menu entirely. Dolamdes are not easy to make and that effort should be respected. The way they are now is not worth your time and effort (assuming they’re made in-house) and it’s not worth our money.
Greek Fries – The French/American fries were the best thing we ate at The Simple Greek. That’s saying something because they were just ok. Throwing some feta cheese and oregano on something and calling it “Greek” is the laziest way to make Greek food. The flavors were nice, but the fries weren’t especially crispy. At least they were hot and freshly made. That makes the fries the freshest and warmest thing we ate! That doesn’t seem right, does it?
I’m very disappointed in you, The Simple Greek. You’ve got a great idea that has worked incredibly well for similar restaurants (see Naf Naf Grill in Chicago) and Greek festivals. Greek Food can lend itself very well to a fast-service (not fast food) style model, which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see what you’ve done with that idea. It’s a shame that anyone might go to The Simple Greek and imagine that what they’re getting is representative of good Greek food. It really wouldn’t take much to make the experience of dining with you so much more bearable. Just serving hot food would get you about 60% of the way there! I’m really rooting for you and I’m asking you to please be better. I’d love to have a source for good Greek food nearby, but that’s sadly not going to be The Simple Greek right now.
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