For all of its trappings as a franchise-fueled chain — 37 branches scattered mostly in the South; somewhat generic avocado-and-white walls meant to evoke Greece’s profusion of cypresses, set against bone-white architecture — Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe manages to conjure a local, and, surprisingly, uncorporatized aura.
The seven-week-old Southlake location takes the “casual” as seriously as the “fast” in its mandate of being the first “fast-casual” franchise of the Taziki’s restaurant chain to open in Texas.
The “casual” part started within the first 10 seconds of walking into its Southlake outpost, a few Gucci handbags down the road from the Southlake Town Square. Within those few seconds, an ever-smiling Taziki’s employee handed me a menu and kindly instructed me to approach the counter to order from a highly manageable menu of roughly 50 items.
Once I ordered, the “fast” portion of Taziki’s kicked into high gear. In about four minutes, the entire order arrived at the table: a hefty appetizer sampler, four main dishes, four sides, along with bottomless glasses of soda.
The blinding speed of the service barely gave me time to sit back and soak in the individualized decorating touches of Taziki’s founders, Alabama couple Keith and Amy Richards. They have garnished this branch with poster-sized enlargements of the original photos — of Greek temples, or a mythic-sized clump of grapes — doubtlessly snapped during a 1997 Greek vacation, the crucial trip that first got them enamored with starting a Greek- and Mediterranean-flavored restaurant.
The Mezedes platter ($7.99) is an all-star assemblage of the best of the individual appetizers. The dolmades, or hand-rolled grape leaves, were briny and crunchy on the outside, encasing a flurry of flavorful rice. Pita triangles were dusted with spices and adorned with olive slices, and were the perfect vehicle for multiple dunkings in hummus and the exceptionally zesty cucumber-dill-yogurt taziki dip.
You can’t leave a Greek establishment without testing two staples of the Mediterranean larder: a gyro, and anything with lamb. The Greek salad gyro ($8.29, with chicken) was heroic in size, a doughy cylinder of pita bread, easily enveloping a wildly tasty salad, which played well with the nubbins of grilled chicken.
As for Taziki’s main lamb offering, its chargrilled variety ($11.99) fell into the unfortunate trap of overzealous grilling, yielding dry, slightly tough meat. That’s a shame, because its sides — ultra-fluffy and flavorful basmati rice; perfectly roasted, oregano-infused potatoes; and a perky tomato and cucumber salad, flecked with sharp cubes of feta cheese — were all stellar accompaniments.
Taziki excelled in tilapia ($10.99). The grilling for this inherently light fish was letter-perfect, accentuating the blackened spice rub, while leaving the interior flaky and moist. The fish was so successful on its own that its zingy, caper-dill sauce was near superfluous.
If you happen to drop in on Tuesday night, don’t pass up the daily special of the roasted pork loin sandwich ($8.49). It’s a marvelous conglomerate of thin slices of pig, whose unctuousness was effectively cut by a zippy tomato chutney aioli and a refreshing combo of tomato and lettuce — all housed by a remarkably resilient kaiser bun.
Taziki’s gets full marks for candor in crediting Florida-based Hellas Bakery for its sublime baklava triangle ($2.50), with its feathery phyllo dough, encasing layers of nuts and dribbled honey. That honesty didn’t salvage the average wedge of “made from scratch” dark chocolate cake ($2.50).
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the moment Taziki’s strayed from its adoptive Greek roots, notably with that pedestrian slice of chocolate cake, it stumbled. The lesson there is that Taziki’s will be on its firmest footing by sticking to what originally inspired it: the Greek way.