The Princeton Chamber of Commerce is here, bottlenecking the entrance and the front room with good cheer. In a sidecar of another dining area, families are catching dinner, old friends are catching up and university types are catching a breather down the home stretch of the fall semester.
We’re at Local Greek in downtown Princeton, which is doing exactly what it set out to do: provide sustenance morning, noon and night as a stop-in for meze-style meals, baked goods both sweet and savory, and an expanded menu of post-midday substantial-size fare that the folks here insist on calling “smaller” plates.
Owner Tony Kanterakis, who also operates a Greek deli-bakery in Highland Park called New Athens, opened Local Greek last month and instantly filled what no one realized was a void. Who knew the platter of gigantes, XXL-size lima beans stewed in a hearty herb-flecked tomato sauce with sausages that shout “watch-me-be-made,” would be the next big thing in Princeton?
It was relatively early on this weekday night, barely 6 pm, but our amiable server had to shake off our requests like a willful pitcher shakes off calls from his catcher. Local Greek already was out of a number of dishes, thanks to the size of the crowd and the immediate popularity of many of its stuffed meat-and-cheese pastries. Calzone and stomboli, beware: There’s a new food in Princeton and, judging by the smiles on the faces of our dining neighbors at Local Greek lucky enough to score the zabonotiropita, it’s mighty fine.
We were happy with the kipos, a chunky salad composed of kale, orange sections, avocado, figs and monster-size cashews. Teeny crumbles of cheese and a zesty balsamic vinegar-dominated dressing with a pinch of honey topped it off.
Order this, have your dining companion order a square of mousaka that sees its silky bechamel play prettily off coarsely ground beef and slivers of eggplant, and you have the ideal share-supper. This is what meze—the small plates of the Mediterranean—are supposed to be about.
Or you could snag the “Mediterra” chicken. On the night of our visit, it was shy on bird meat and heavy on a soothing sauce of peppers and pineapple, tomatoes and oranges; a careless kitchen miscue.
Or, try the kokinisto, a beef stew sporting another tomato sauce well endowed with herbs.
To sop up the copious portions of sauce, use the half-moon shaped, cheese-topped bread our server was able to spirit out of the depleted bakery. It was on the stale side, frankly, a likely leftover, but we needed a conduit for the sauce.
I held back tears when I learned the ravani, a Greek sponge cake typically given a jigger or three of lemon zest, was another out-of-stock menu item. A simple pair of cookies were all that was left in Local Greek’s larder; the sugar-dusted rounds and the basic braided logs sufficed.
For the moment.
I’m coming back to Local Greek to have it all, even if I need to camp out at 44 Leigh all day.
Local Greek, 44 Leigh Avenue, Princeton. BYO. Open Tuesday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Sundays till 5 pm; closed Mondays. 609-285-2969; localgreeknj.com.