By Richard Eber
Every September, my family looks forward to attending the Contra Costa Greek Food and Wine Festival sponsored by the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Concord. We gorge ourselves on gyros, roasted lamb, dolmas, spanakopita, tzatziki sauce, kalamata olives, baklava, and all the other great stuff we get at this three-day event.
Unfortunately, when the festival at St. Demetrious concludes, my family and I have not, until recently, found a local eatery that satisfies our cravings for authentic Greek cuisine. True, there are a few Mediterranean and Afghan restaurants that come close, but they are not the real thing. Recently this sad case of culinary disappointment has ended with the opening of Yanni’s at 1960 Concord Avenue (near Salvio Street) in Concord. Tel (925) 446-4665.
This semi fast-food restaurant is a virtual clone of Yanni’s Greek Café at 6635 Alhambra Avenue in Martinez. The Martinez venue features a similar menu of Greek delicacies.
Yanni’s eateries, which began operations in 2008, is named after the nine-year-old son of the owner, Voula. Voula carefully guards her family’s recipes because they are unique to Yanni’s.
Voula, who toiled for seven years at the famous Greek restaurant, Kokkari, (200 Jackson Street in San Francisco), relies on utilizing fresh ingredients, which she uses in her diverse menu. The standard bearer of the Yanni’s eateries is their flagship gyros.
The gyros come in several varieties, but I prefer the plain ones made Greek-style. They feature flat pita bread, which, like a taco, is stuffed with lettuce, tomato, white onions, tzatziki sauce, and, of course, gyro meat. This consists of a mixture of 80% ground beef and 20 percent lamb, which is seasoned and frozen. It is then cooked on a spit with fat dripping off the sides. When done, thin slices of meat are cut off and stacked inside the warm flat bread. Yum!
A cousin to the gyros is the falafel — a vegetarian concoction, which is a mixture of chick peas, tahini, spices, egg, and garlic. The falafel is rolled into a golf-ball shape and fried in oil to a crisp. Yanni’s falafels are not only delicious but healthy. And they taste really good.
Another house specialty of this little Greek café are the lamb dishes. They are pricier than the other offerings on the menu but are worth it. Voula uses marinated tenderloin, which begs to be cooked medium-rare to take in all of the subtle favors. They also make lamb chops, which I have not tried, because I am hooked on so many of their other dishes in my comfort zone.
For those who do not want to try Greek food (hard as it is for me to imagine) Yanni’s also offers excellent burgers. In ordering a Greek burger, I found it to be juicy and full of favor. Again, with me, if it moves, it grooves. Thus, I had mine on the rare side. They also have different toppings available including mushrooms, bacon, pastrami, and cheese.
Going along with their burgers, gyros, and falafels, Yanni’s has some excellent sides. Their fries are fresh and prepared in hot oil. The onion rings are my favorite, and the fried zucchini is cooked to order. They go perfectly with their secret — don’t call it ranch — white dipping sauce.
In addition to their varied menu of pita bread sandwiches, Yanni’s also offers melitzanosalata dip made up of eggplant garlic, and evoo. Naturally, they also do a pretty decent version of hummus and tirokafteri spicy feta dips which were meant to be spread on warm pita bread. There is also a respectable spanakopita (spinach, herbs, feta, and phylo) that Yannis’s offers.
Since there are so many dishes that one can crave at Yanni’s, most of the time I come with guests. The custom is to split several appetizers and salads between or among us. These splits go well in accompanying a sandwich or entrée for all of us. One small plate that I always order is their combination of ripe, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese, and kalamata olives covered by a light vinaigrette.
With this being said, I am still looking forward to attending the Greek festival at St. Demetrios from September 16-18th this year. In addition to the type of fare that Yanni’s offers, the ladies of the church make their own home-made delicacies, which are found nowhere else. As always, customers should look forward to the Greek cookies, pastries, and coffee.
One small request. Last year was the first time at St. Demitrios that the festival did not offer lamb shanks. Please bring them back in 2016. Since Yalla’s restaurant in Concord moved to Danville several months ago, this craving of mine has been left in limbo. In the meantime, I am dreaming in blue and white — the colors on Greece’s flag — and looking forward to the festival later this month.
Richard Eber is a local writer whose work appears in The Contra Costa Bee and Diablo Gazette. With the Contra Costa Wine Group, he is an award-winning home-wine maker. He is an avid cook who loves to use fresh ingredients grown in his garden.