Nalbandian Nosh: March Review

We+made+it+to+our+kitchen+table+for+this+month%E2%80%99s+review+of+the+Greek+cuisine+from+Spiro%E2%80%99s.

Mira Nalbandian

We made it to our kitchen table for this month’s review of the Greek cuisine from Spiro’s.

Welcome back to the Nalbandian Nosh. We’ve been enjoying March so far, from some spells of beautiful weather to a relaxing spring break, we simply can’t complain. Well, we actually do complain a lot, but March has been going pretty well. This month, we decided to circle back to some of our roots: Mediterranean food. Now, I must point out that Ancestry DNA decided to randomly reconfigure my DNA report, informing me that I’m no longer 2% Greek. So to mourn the loss of my overpowering Greek heritage, we picked up some food from Spiro’s to make up for it. Please enjoy our thoughts on the Greek cuisine from Spiro’s.

The Herbivore’s Meal

I have to warn you that I picked out what I wanted for dinner on one of my infamous 30-second work breaks, which is basically where I pretend like I have to drink water and go stand outside on my phone for 30 seconds. That being noted, I wasn’t able to scan the menu as thoroughly as I would have hoped, and resorted back to a vegetarian coping mechanism: order the appetizers because there are usually more meat-free options. That’s how I chose tzatziki and hummus for my meal.

Hummus ($6.00) served with toasted pita bread.
Tzatziki ($7.00) not pictured. (Mira Nalbandian)

When I got home from my shift, I was warmly greeted by my aesthetically pleasing plate, arranged oh so carefully by my father. The hummus was served atop a lettuce leaf, with an olive in the middle, tzatziki beside, and pita triangles all around. I had forgotten how much I missed pita and hummus, it had been way too long since I’d had any. Tzatziki, a salted yogurt and cucumber dish, had also been missing from my diet for an egregious amount of time.

Spiro’s hummus is no ordinary Costco-type slop. It’s a lot less creamy, but rather fresher and more authentic. It stands well on its own, but still spreads very well on a wedge of toasty pita. The chickpeas always make a great base, but Spiro’s flavoring, especially my favorite flavor— lots of garlic— really took the hummus to the next level. I don’t like olives so I took that off, but otherwise, the hummus was pretty much perfect.

As for the tzatziki, in the past I’ve primarily eaten it on gyros, which are, admittedly, a lot better with meat. I was glad to have a tzatziki meal that was free of that though, and Spiro’s tzatziki appetizer provided. The dip was perfectly savory with the salted yogurt and flavors like dill yet still refreshing thanks to the incorporated cucumber and mint. In general, Armenians are no strangers to a salted yogurt dish; I’ve always wanted to try one of our specialty yogurt drinks, t’an. I again ate the tzatziki with the toasted pita, of which we ordered extra, and it provided a nice cool balance to the sharper hummus.

As always, I ate whatever I could off of other people’s plates, so I was also able to taste my mother’s roasted vegetables and my father’s baked potato, a Spiro’s specialty. Those, and the Greek salad that came on the side, were very good and complemented my own food well. Overall, I’ve always known Spiro’s was a good place to eat, and this trip further solidified my belief.

The Carnivore’s Meal

As a St. Louis native, one of the classic institutions in our city is Spiro’s Medditeranean Restaurant. From their early days across Natural Bridge road. and on the UMSL campus serving hungry students and professors, to their moves west to Chesterfield, south to Sappington and even further west to St. Charles, nothing is quite like a well-run, great-tasting Greek steakhouse— and this is one of the region’s very best.

We have been loyal Spiro’s customers for years but we haven’t been able to visit them since the pandemic began. My favorite meal to order is steak, but that just doesn’t seem to travel well, so on this trip I ordered a classic Greek casserole: pastichio. While it may sound a bit like pistachio, it doesn’t contain any nuts, so never fear, allergy-sufferers.

Pastichio with a twice baked potato. ($15.00) (Mira Nalbandian)

Pastichio is a Greek dish derived from a group of Italian dishes that are basically savory pies. The modern version was invented at the beginning of the 20th century and is well known throughout the world. The dish is even sometimes referred to as Greek Lasagna but is made as a different style of casserole. At its core, the dish is three layers. The initial layer consists of tubular noodles, like penne, mixed with a light, binding custard of eggs, salt and cream. The middle layer is a seasoned ground beef. Here, Spiro’s uses a traditional spice mix made of cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper and all-spice, which gives the layer a very Greek-tasting sharpness. The last layer is a bechamel sauce, a basic French thickened milk sauce, sometimes referred to as a white sauce. Spiro’s makes theirs with pepper, nutmeg and a little bay leaf to tighten and mellow the flavor. This also helps to offset the flavors from the meat layer, but they go a step further by adding just a hint of feta cheese to the top prior to baking the dish. 

Sprio’s version is excellent. The first layer provides a succulent and understated base while the sharp flavors of the meat and the mellow flavors of the sauce shine and complement each other. One of the great things about layer casseroles is the play on flavors that you can enjoy, by either tasting each layer separately or combining the flavors to create a new sensation.

This dish is normally served with roasted vegetables, but as my favorite vegetable is the humble potato, and Spiros is famous for their twice-baked, I had to have one. A twice-baked tater is a steakhouse staple, where the chef will hollow out the filling from a standard baked potato, grate it through a ricer (this creates a smooth texture) and then combine it with sour cream, butter and cheese. This mixture is mounded back into the shell, sprinkled lightly with paprika and baked until golden on top. Spiro’s version is made perfectly: they don’t skimp on the cheese, using parmesan and white cheddar for a sharper flavor. As always, these were delicious.

Speaking of cheese, one of the things you have to try at Spiro’s is the saganaki or ‘flaming cheese,’ which is ignited right by your table. It’s surely a hit and you won’t forget it. I really was craving this and almost ordered it. As I pointed out to my wife, we have brandy and a candle lighter at home so we could just do it ourselves—for some reason she said no. Oh well, OPA!

Outside of Spiro’s, located in Chesterfield. (Mira Nalbandian)