Dee’s birthday was coming up at the beginning of March and the other Gertz Girlz wanted to take her out to dinner to celebrate. They knew just the place too. “There’s this great Greek restaurant we want to take you to.” This was received with a less than enthusiastic response. (See our text conversation below.)
Hmm…a gastronomic roadblock. We all know someone who just isn’t ‘into’ certain types of food. We were treading on thin phyllo here. After all, it was Dee’s big day but we KNEW this restaurant wouldn’t disappoint. In the end, it was what we call a Win-Win. Huppa!
My limited experience with Greek cuisine began in the ’70s when my mother, always the fearless baker, tried her hand at mastering phyllo on the way to making baklava. Not that I had a basis for comparison, but her result was a revelation. The outer phyllo layers were delicate and crispy, giving way to a sticky bite and a chew of sweet filling both rich and complex; a nut-filled sugar rush of the grandest order. I considered it strudel’s swanky cousin.
For my mother it was a labor of love, but unfortunately for our family the labor proved a bit too arduous. Those were the days before ample counter space and tall center islands, so the work was done hunched over the kitchen table, which puts enormous strain on the lower back. She made it just once more and then went back to strudel, one of many delights on her rotating schedule of desserts, including mandel bread (or mandelbrot, a softer Jewish version of biscotti) and sour cream coffee cake.
A decade later I was a novice cook, just starting out with what would become a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. The first was the homespun Betty Crocker primer, a gift from my mother when I finally moved out of her house. The second was my first purchase: The Culinary Arts Institute’s magnum opus. (From Betty Crocker to Culinary Arts…geez, I wasn’t TOO cocky.)
In relation to Betty’s book, to this day I have tried only one recipe from The Culinary Arts many pages, an appetizer plainly named Feta Cheese Triangles (probably a subconscious desire to follow in my mom’s phyllo footsteps).
Working with phyllo can be intimidating, but if you follow instructions to the letter –keeping dough moist under a damp cloth, having plenty of melted butter on hand and a good pastry brush – and if you are patient and careful, it is a fairly forgiving dough. The end result was simply wonderful, delicious and decadent. Crispy, creamy, salty, and oh so rich. And let me tell ya: I made it only one other time, for a friend’s backyard wedding, because it was a freakin’ back breaker.
So why would I say that I didn’t especially care for Greek food? Easy: an unpleasant experience with stuffed grape leaves at a now defunct Greek diner in Belmont back in the ’80s. The memory of why I didn’t like it has faded, though ‘bitter’ and ‘slimy’ come to mind. I also don’t like olives, and I refuse to eat baby animals, so the ubiquitous lamb is out. But are these enough reasons to turn my nose up at all that Greece has to offer? Is it fair? No on both counts. So I gave Amphora a try.
Having lived in the heart of Boston for many years before marriage, I made a sacrifice moving to New Hampshire eighteen years ago. I traded phenomenal dining-out options for a big house and better air quality. But it was a dismal sacrifice for a serious foodie who became faced with a choice of Applebees vs Pizzeria Uno.
Over the years, I have been more than thrilled to see small, interesting restaurants come onto the local scene. Amphora in Derry, New Hampshire is one I’m particularly proud of. I consider it a hidden gem. If you like casual and intimate dining, great service, and delicious Mediterranean food, you have hit the jackpot here. The décor has a sunny feel to it – perhaps it’s the pleasant lighting, lemon-colored walls, and authentic Greek artifacts scattered about, but on a cold, gray New Hampshire day, it feels like a warm oasis.
My absolute favorite dish is the pork souvlaki dinner entrée – two skewers of tenderly roasted pork seasoned apparently in heaven. It’s served with fluffy rice pilaf, and a tzatziki sauce (a zesty cucumber-garlic dip made with real Greek yogurt drizzled with olive oil) on the side – perfectly tart and creamy to compliment the seasoned meat. But I’ve jumped ahead.
The appetizers are some of my favorite items on the menu and I made sure our Birthday Girl got to try some of them. We started with the “Mezza” a quartet of tasty dips accompanied by warm pita bread. This is a “hidden” menu item so be sure to ask for it! It’s fun to try all the dips and decide on a favorite.
Another wonderful appetizer is the Eggplant Frites. These long beauties are seasoned and lightly fried leaving a creamy eggplant interior that melts in the mouth. They’re also served with a side dip of the wonderful tzatziki.
Amphora was a great experience and a very special birthday gift–thanks again Gertz Girlz! Our waitress was friendly and helpful with requests–especially when we asked the music be turned down slightly. The Mezza dips were delicious (LOVE hummus and fresh pita). The Eggplant Frites were crispy and creamy and so addictive I might have to try them at home.
The Gyro I was hoping to try had lamb mixed in with the ground beef, so I opted for the Souvlaki Sandwich with Steak Tips. At only $7.95 it was a delicious bargain: another super fresh, thick pita stuffed with juicy tips, lettuce, tomato, onion and yogurt sauce. DeeLish!!!
And what great conversation we had! Naturally, one of the topics was foods we would never try, such as periwinkles, octopus and escargot. Disclosure: I did try escargot over 30 years ago. In the English language it’s a rubbery snail swimming in garlic butter, but who would eat it described that way? Even in French, once was enough for me. And of course, we talked about our favorite scenes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which we all love and have seen countless times.
One of me and my mother’s favorite things to do together is watch chick flicks (with a big bowl of popcorn of course). We watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding a couple of years ago and I loved it. The scene where the grandmother is running around in the middle of the night chasing “the Turks” is hysterical! So whenever we go to Amphora it brings back that happy memory and also of their family restaurant, Dancing Zorbas.
And if you go to Amphora, please do try the fresh feta cheese, so creamy and tangy and wonderful on the warm pita bread!
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Amphora has garnished accolades from The Boston Globe food critics as well as winning Best Greek Restaurant from New Hampshire Magazine. The owner, Peter Tsoupelis has great pride in his family’s Greek heritage and offers family dishes, but with his own unique culinary touches. He is quoted as saying, “Amphora is not your grandmother’s Greek restaurant.” Perhaps not – but allow us to recommend what I consider to be ‘Greek Penicillin’ the Avgolemona Chicken Soup. Yia Yia would approve!
When the Gertz Girlz catch a cold, this is the first place we go for a large takeout container of the delicious chicken, pastini, and lemon soup! And Dee can’t wait to visit again. Huppa!
More info: amphora.com