YiaYia’s, pronounced YaYa’s, means Grandma’s in Greek. Much of the cooking at YiaYia’s Greek Kitchen, a modest roadhouse in Montague, in the far northwest corner of Sussex County, was inspired by Anastasia Zois’s mother, who she calls YiaYia Eva—“a great cook, with amazing instincts and skills,” she says.
The cooking of Zois and her husband, Georgios Hrissohoidis, the co-owners and co-chefs of YiaYia’s, is pretty darn fine, too. Zois’s moussaka, based on YiaYia Eva’s recipe—heaped with rich béchamel and redolent of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove—is one of the best I’ve had anywhere, including in Greece. Like many of YiaYia’s Greek specialties, it’s available only Friday through Sunday, but you can call ahead to reserve an order.
After emigrating from Greece in 1991 and becoming citizens, the couple worked in restaurant management until Eva encouraged them to open their own place, which they did in 2013. The first iteration was located in nearby Layton and called the Layton Country Store and Café.
“I’d missed living among Greeks,” says Zois, adding that though many of their customers are not Greek, about half of them have visited the country, which allows her to speak a little of the language to them. In October 2018, Zios and her husband closed the Layton location, which was on a quiet, rural road, and reopened as YiaYia’s on busier Route 206. The move has been good for business.
People looking for a snack on their way to High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest or the Delaware River National Recreation Area might step inside YiaYia’s, notice the substantial wooden chairs at the dining tables and wonder why all the plates are paper and all the cutlery throwaway plastic. The reason, according to the couple, is that the county deemed the building’s plumbing unable to handle the forceful water flow of a commercial dishwasher.
Don’t let the modest tableware put you off. In my visits, I had every one of the 18 items on the Greek Specialties menu, and all were terrific. But only 10 of the 18 are offered every day: lamb, chicken, gyro, souvlaki platter, spanakopita (spinach pie), tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip) and stuffed grape leaves. The menu includes burgers, onion rings, sandwiches, a tasty gyro quesadilla and a kids’ menu.
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Hrissohoidis is the grill man and pastry chef. His mountainous gyro platter, with 10 ounces of sublimely seasoned sliced lamb or chicken, come with fries made from fresh potatoes, Greek salad and a rich, garlicky tzatziki thick with grated cucumber.
The tzatziki is one of Zois’s most compelling creations. She handles appetizers and salads as well as mains such as the masterful moussaka. Her fritters are special, too. On many Greek menus, fritters are made from shredded zucchini, but she makes hers in two types: butternut squash and chickpea. She shapes them like crab cakes, pan fries them and serves them with her stop-the-presses tzatziki.
Zois’s Kastorian salad—named for the couple’s lakeside hometown, Kastoria, in northern Greece—irresistibly combines tangy feta with dried figs, raisins, sunflower seeds, caramelized walnuts and grilled chicken over lettuce. It’s half salad, half dessert.
My guests and I were so smitten with YiaYia’s food, including the baklava and other desserts, that it took awhile to realize that the menu has no seafood.
“We’re Greek, so the fish would have to be delivered daily,” explains Hrissohoidis. “It’s 75 miles to Hunt’s Point and more than 150 to Barnegat Light. We’d need to charge so much, we wouldn’t be YiaYia’s anymore. We don’t want to be bigger and fancier. Our Greek village is right here.”
One worth the drive to the western tip of Sussex County.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:Greek/Mediterranean
- Price Range:Inexpensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $6.95–$13.95; entrées, $13.95–$14.95; desserts, $5.95–$7.95
- Ambience:Casual, convivial, no frills
- Service:Effusive and efficient
- Wine list:BYO