When Steve Tryfonas and George Iliopoulos met as freshman roommates in a New Hampshire college in 1979, they were newly arrived from their native Greece. Neither could have predicted that one day they’d run a restaurant together.
Their mothers knew Greek cooking, but neither family had a restaurant background. The two transferred to Kean University, and both went into the food business after graduating from Kean in 1983. Iliopoulos attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City and earned a master’s degree in hospitality from NYU.
Over the years, the friends talked about going into business together. Finally, in December 2013, they opened Black Olive in a Voorhees shopping plaza.
Most of the menu, Iliopoulos told me by phone, comes from dishes his mother prepared when he was growing up in the Olympia region of Greece. “When I was little, I was always trying to help her, watching her and remembering everything she did,” he said.
Highlights among appetizers included spanakopita—spinach, feta, onions, dill and mint baked in flaky phyllo dough—and saganaki—kefalograviera cheese served hot and crusty in the skillet in which it is fried. Also excellent was bifteki, a special of grilled ground lamb served with grilled tomatoes and tangy cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce. Grilled octopus was meatier and had more complex flavor than the grilled calamari, which was seriously undercooked. My favorite starter was taramosalata, a fluffy smoked cod-roe mousse served with grilled pita slices.
Traditional moussaka (ground beef, eggplant, potatoes, béchamel) and pastitsio (ground beef, tomatoes, pasta, béchamel) were fine but for excessive nutmeg in the béchamel, a bullying flavor when overused. Grilled whole porgie, basted with olive oil and lemon juice, exemplified the perfect simplicity of the Greek approach to fish. Equally good was shrimp tourkolimano, sautéed before being flambéed with ouzo.
Braised shank of lamb had soft, succulent meat on tomato-studded orzo. Roast leg of lamb, sliced thick, was tender in a sauce made from the roast drippings. Exohiko, a special, was a delicious stew of lamb chunks, spinach, kefalograviera cheese and caramelized onions under a phyllo crust. Entrées come with soup or salad (lackluster lentil soup on one visit, excellent salmon chowder on another), and two vegetables (overcooked green beans; decent rice and spinach).
Baklava was admirably restrained in sweetness, as was galaktoboureko, a dense custard topped with phyllo. Ekmek kataifi—honey-soaked shredded phyllo topped with custard and whipped cream—was terminally sweet. One of the best desserts was the simplest—grilled peaches with ice cream, replaced by pumpkin baklava as the season changed. A good reason to return.Click here to leave a comment