“Enter as strangers, leave as friends,” the menu at Greca, the new Greek restaurant in White Plains commands you. In some circumstances that might be regarded as somewhat fresh — an impertinence, if you will. But at Greca, where recent meals have both delighted and impressed, it seems an entirely reasonable ordinance.
First things first and I’m a sucker for a good olive. Nice, fat purple ones, for preference, a whole dish of them, fleshy with Mediterranean sunshine. That’s what you get at Greca as soon as you’re through the door and have parked your behind on one of Greca’s burnt umber banquettes or well-upholstered chairs or barstools.
Greca, you may wish to know, not that it particularly signifies, is on the site formerly occupied by Mediterraneo, opposite the dancing fountains on Main Street. (WAG’s Peter Katz covered the opening party in our October 2021 issue.) The restaurant, spread over three floors with a bar at street level, seats up to 200 people. It’s big and bright, with floor to (extremely high) ceiling windows, gets mobbed at weekends but is atmospheric, too, on a Monday lunchtime, although its look is as far removed from your archetypal Greek taverna as it is possible to get. Not that you should hold that against it, because there are other elements to consider — and looks, after all, are only skin deep.
Take the welcome, which is kind and considerate. It comes from a smiling waiter who has relieved you of your coat and other wintry accoutrements and thrust a menu into your hand and those olives onto the table before you even know it. Or, if you’re lucky, it comes from co-owner and former journalist, chef and restaurant consultant, Constantine “Dino” Kolitsas, whose dad emigrated from Andros in Greece in 1955 but who grew up in Danbury, and whose deep love of Greek food came from his aunt’s exceptional cooking. He is often at the door, waiting to greet guests.
Kolitsas heard about the White Plains site from the designer of his other restaurant, also Greca, in New Milford. Her husband worked for Rexon, a company affiliated with the Louis Cappelli Organization, based in White Plains. Cappelli, it so happened, was looking for an operator for the site and a meeting was set up. Kolitsas met with Bruce Bird, CEO of Cappelli’s company, walked the restaurant, loved the space and suggested he cook for Louis Cappelli up at the New Milford restaurant. “Mr. Cappelli,” he was informed, was not accustomed to leaving White Plains, so Kolitsas headed south with his chef and kitchen brigade to cook for him in White Plains instead. Greca Mule (cocktails) and Old Fashioneds were served, a dozen or so appetizers, salads and around 10 different entrées followed. Kolitsas said to Louis Cappelli, “What do you think?” and Cappelli replied, “You had me at the dips.”
Ah, those dips. There are around eight of them, including melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant), tyrokafteri (feta with yogurt and chilies) and taramasalata (the classic dish of whipped cod’s roe, as common in Greece as hummus is throughout the Middle East, but which is virtually impossible to find in the United States) and they are winners, every one. Salads, like the Greca bowl, with pligouri (cracked wheat) and soft kefalgraviera are fresh and generous, and at lunchtime the sandwiches, filled pitas and spanakopita (spinach pie) all have a ping of freshness as well as the ring of authenticity to them.
There are grills, too, like lavraki, a whole branzino cooked on the open fire, or kalamakia — skewers of chicken or pork. Salmon comes simply seared with a little sage and a light Champagne sauce and is superb. Imam baildi is a wonderful dish of slow roasted eggplant with lemony potatoes, while hilopites — Greek egg pasta with whipped cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, truffle oil and Pecorino — reinforces the message that Greca can be just as fine a restaurant for vegetarians (and often vegans), as it is a terrific place for meat.
In the evenings, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), spicy sausages, grilled octopus, a seafood stew and chargrilled steaks and chops fill out the dinner menu, while desserts include those glorious confections of phyllo pastry and milky custards that makes Greek desserts generally so compelling.
The man responsible for all these dainties is Albanian-born chef Kosta Ndreu, whose cuisine Kolitsas describes as “rustic and reimagined” Greek food. “‘Rustic’ describes the authentic things that my grandmother made and my aunt still makes on the island,” he says. “‘Reimagined’ is the direction in which a lot of chefs on Mykonos, in Santorini and in Athens are taking Greek cuisine.”
They’re taking Greek elements, specialty items, he says, and making them exciting and new. “In one dish for instance, (chef) takes a crab cake and wraps it in kataifi (super-thin, spirally phyllo,) then tops it with some feta and truffle-laced honey. It’s an incredible bite — very Greek — but not a dish my grandmother would have made.” Another is trahana — a kind of dried pasta made with yogurt — which incidentally Kolitsas tells me was how the starving Greeks survived the Nazi occupation in World War ll. At Greca, they rinse out all the starch from the trahana until they’re left with something which looks like Israeli couscous, which is then roasted with shallots and mushrooms and tossed with extra virgin olive oil. I haven’t tried it yet but I plan to.
With two Grecas already under his belt, Kolitsas makes no secret of developing Greca as a brand and, although he prefers not to say where, he already has his sights set on some other towns. “It’s all about the scaleability and design,” he says. “The lemons on the tables, for instance, they’re not an accident. Everything is intended to convey what we’re about. Everything is fresh, clean, healthy and upscale.”
More than 25 million tourists — many of them Americans — visit Greece every year, Kolitsas says, or did pre-pandemic, and come back looking for the food.
If they follow their noses to Greca, they will certainly find it.
Greca is at 189 Main St. in White Plains. For reservations and more, visit grecamed.com.