Full disclosure: George's Specialty Foods holds a special place in my heart.
The White Settlement Road landmark was just a few minutes from my mom's studio, and I spent many restless summer mornings as a kid hassling her about when we could go to lunch there. What I really loved was seeing George Phiripes, his wife, Helen, and son Nick behind the counter. Sometimes they were busy mixing up Greek salads to a standing-room-only crowd (George's only has about 10 tables), but on a slow, hot summer's day, they always made time to chat. Once, Helen gave me a dolma-rolling demonstration I'll never forget. Through the years, I developed the unusual ability (call it Greek salad clairvoyance) to determine whether Nick, Helen or George made the salad each day. If only that were a marketable skill.
George and Helen are in their 90s now, so Nick runs the place with son Theo and daughter Stacy. As is the case with many small businesses, family life and work intermingle, and George's is no exception. After closing for nearly a year to take care of his father, Nick re-opened in December. In the past few weeks, I've stopped in more than a handful of times, watching the place fill up with its telltale random cadre of diners: regulars, military personnel, blue-collar workers, attorneys from downtown. Clearly, I'm not the only one who has a love for the Phiripes family and its food.
A few things -- but not much -- have changed since a year ago. As you enter the restaurant, to your left is a new Greek-themed mural painted by local artist Darla Lyon. And the Phiripeses are now serving chicken and a new panini sandwich, in addition to their gyros and beloved Greek turkey pita. A new grill has replaced the worn-out flat-top, offering a more streamlined cooking process.
For my first visit back, nothing could stop me from placing my old-time standing order, a medium Greek salad ($3.79, small; $4.79, medium; $7.99, large) and a dolma ($1.90). And, thankfully, some things never change. The salad, made of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, Kalamata olives and feta cheese, features a vinegar-heavy, lip-puckering dressing. The tangy feta cheese is a great foil to the dressing, and the rest of the ingredients are the perfect backdrop.
The dolma, a grape leaf filled with rice and ground beef, is served warm with a slice of lemon. The George's version has always been more savory and less lemon-cured than those you can find elsewhere around town. It is a satisfying complement to a meatless salad. However, you can add gyro meat, chicken or turkey if you prefer more protein; all salads come with a side of pita.
On another visit, I was intrigued by the panini: grilled Bulgarian feta cheese, fresh spinach, basil, tomato, purple onion and olive oil on focaccia bread ($5.99). The first thing you note, after biting through the excellent bread (which comes from nearby Artisan Baking Co.), is the sharpness of the feta cheese, which is liberally applied and hence only slightly melted. The basil and spinach make for a pesto-y dynamic, all adding up to a stellar sandwich.
The chicken gyro ($5.99) has Greek-seasoned chicken mired in Nick's standout tzatziki dressing, plus tomato and onion. The chewy pita barely keeps the ingredients together. It's a messy taste sensation.
Artisan Baking Co. also now supplies George's with cheesecake ($2.75 a slice); other traditional Greek pastries, like the addictive kataifi (walnuts with honey wrapped in buttered phyllo dough, $2) and baklava, come from outside the shop.
As restaurants in the near west side increasingly favor flashy retail setups and as Dallas-owned high-profile spots move in, it's heartening to see an original place survive. And any visit will tell you that after more than 60 years, George's is still thriving.