Of the Old World

Where to find some of the finest pastichio, moussaka, and moi-moi in Austin

Zorba Greek Restaurant

2601 S. I-35, Round Rock (in the Home Depot shopping center), 512/716-0100

Tuesday-Friday, 11am-2:30pm, 5-9:30pm; Saturday, 11am-9:30pm; Sunday, 11am-8:30pm
As the Austin area becomes increasingly cosmopolitan, it attracts an ever-diversifying corps of immigrants whose cultural experience and tastes reflect their international background. Over the past decade we have seen Chinatowns bloom, weathered the Italian wave (which inundated other major cities in the Eighties), and now order dosas with as much savoir faire as a double order of fries. But a few ethnic categories are still depressingly underrepresented. For my part, I have been dreaming of a good Greek restaurant where I can sip retsina, and nibble on spanakopita. That is why I was downright thrilled to discover Zorba Greek Restaurant in Round Rock.

Zorba represents the partnership of Greek-born George Betondo and Albanian-born Anil Sinicia. Betondo supplies the recipes, while Sinicia supplies the operational know-how. Tucked into a decidedly unatmospheric strip center in Round Rock's burgeoning shopping vortex, Zorba will not instantly cure Hellenic homesickness. With its brilliant fluorescent lighting and cafeteria-style décor, native charm is not this restaurant's strength. However, after ordering, I discovered a secret that legions of loyal Round Rockers have known for some time: Zorba is the real deal. Take Zorba's Pastichio ($8.99), which features rich nutmeg-scented pasta and béchamel sauce layered with tomato-spiced ground beef. It is as true a pastichio as any I have eaten. Another house specialty, Beef Stew ($9.95), comes in a bowl with big chunks of potatoes and carrots. Its rich brown sauce and tender meat bespeak patient hours in the cooking pot.

Though the restaurant tailors itself to American tastes of the more conventional variety (where are the fried sardines, the lamb and orzo stew, the whole lemony fish, or the marinated octopus?), it cannot be denied that the chow at Zorba is first-rate fare. Start with a Greek Sampler appetizer ($4.95) featuring a meat and rice-stuffed grape leaf, a flaky spanakopita (spinach and phyllo pie), cheesy tyropita (cheese and phyllo pie), and creamy hummus. Then move on to the Gyro Plate ($8.99), the benchmark of all American-style Greek restaurants. Zorba's Gyro Plate is ample and appetizing, accompanied by tasty saffron rice pilaf, spongy slices of pita, and an impressive dollop of rich tzatziki. A variation on the gyro, Zorba's Special Chicken Plate ($8.99) is a massive pile of lemony slices of roasted chicken, rice pilaf, hummus, and fresh sautéed spinach. All entrées come with an exceptionally fresh lettuce and crumbled feta-cheese salad.

Basically, everything we tried was delicious -- including a nutty Baklava ($2.50) and Almond Cheesecake ($3.50). In fact, my only complaint about Zorba Greek Restaurant is that it is so far away from my house.

This restaurant does not have a liquor license, so don't forget to bring your own. For its one-year anniversary, during the first week in November, Zorba will celebrate by preparing such lesser-known traditional Greek dishes as roast lamb with potatoes, youvetsi, taramasalata, and, if I'm lucky, marinated squid. You can bet I'll be there.

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