Because my sister occasionally gets very strong cravings for Greek food, the family had decided to go out and satisfy her for the evening. I, being picky about my food, had previously decided on a trip to Tinos Greek Cafe that it was too noisy and did not have the selection of gluten free (GF) items I was looking for. Not willing to settle, I hopped online to look for other Greek restaurants in Austin and look at their GF selection. I am so glad I did.
El Greco, on Guadalupe near 31st, has changed my favorite type of food to Greek. We showed up around 6pm when there was no one else in the place (though it became extremely busy around 730) and were promptly greeted and given menus. Their GF menu is written on a large chalkboard, easily visible, and just about as extensive as their regular menu. The issue of Celiac Disease is a personal one for the owner and so there are multiple sauces for just about every entrée and the cook is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. Unfortunately not much is dairy free because feta cheese and yogurt are staples in the Greek diet, but it would be easy to eliminate these with not much sacrifice in the flavor department.
We ordered the Red Pepper dip to start and that is when my love affair began. It comes with pita bread but they are more than happy to give you a vegetable selection instead. I love vegetables and so I was fully amenable to the carrots, cucumbers and green peppers, but it inspired me to perfect a recipe for GF pita bread because sometimes veggies just don’t cut it. The dip was similar to the texture of spaghetti sauce, which I was not expecting because it has been whipped with feta cheese. Though the saltiness of the feta comes through, it is not overpowering and the dip remains refreshingly light. It is slightly spicy, but it is a spicy that allows you to taste the sweet pepper before the kick of the hot pepper hits the back of your tongue. Not only is it delicious but it contains all kinds of ingredients that are good for your skin and hair (especially the red peppers).
The souvlaki plate was a classic with herb chicken, rice pilaf, greco fries, and (the reason I eat Greek food) tzatziki. The tzatziki was incredible, I could have eaten it with a spoon as my meal. It was the perfect balance of creamy and lemony and, though very rich, did not taste fatty to my sensitive palate. It was resemblant to the kefir cheese I have previously raved about and that too I could eat with a spoon as a meal. The rice pilaf was lemony and light, though it was only white rice with no extra veggies mixed in. The greco fries were tasty but they are really just skinny versions of traditional fries. The chicken on the other hand had me wondering why it only came with two skewers! It was perfectly seasoned with lots of herbs, lemony, juicy, and I could taste the time it spent on the grill. Fascinatingly enough, when I dipped the chicken in the tzatziki, all of a sudden I was transported to Mount Olympus for a time. However, the brush with greatness was short lived and as soon my chicken was gone I was back on Earth.
I also tried the Eggplant Boat, which we ordered with a Greek salad. The salad was traditionally prepared with lettuce, cucumber, purple onion, feta cheese and kalmata olives, but to my personal delight came with GF salad dressing that was also light instead of oily and extra feta which provided a great topping for the eggplant. The eggplant itself had a slightly stringy texture as it is a full half of an eggplant piled high with veggies such as onions, garlic, zucchini, and tomatoes and then baked, but the stringiness was not an issue for me at all. The skin of the eggplant was not bitter and was easy to chew, though it did not stick to the bites of the inside and so was easy to leave out if need be.
I am not sure which of these options were totally dairy free as some of them may have been cooked with butter but the cooks at El Greco are very accommodating and I am sure would be more than willing to use olive oil and leave out the feta. Those that are allergic to dairy: although I lament your inability to enjoy the tzatziki, don’t worry, I’ll eat yours. In all seriousness, the meat can stand alone and be wonderfully satisfying and although I did not ask the tzatziki may be made with goat or sheep’s milk. Though probably not raw, it could be a safe option depending on your level of sensitivity.
For dessert we had their rice pudding which I enjoyed but I have a small texture issue with all rice in my dessert and so the bliss of the vanilla and coconut was slightly muddled by the crumbliness of the rice. What I did like was that it was not too sweet, topped with cinnamon, and heavy on the vanilla. When I bake I always “accidentally” add too much vanilla because I like it so much. My father, who is a confirmed gluten lover, ordered a dessert suggested by the waitress that was not on the menu. Be sure to ask when you go so that you don’t miss out! It was a lemon tart, and it did have a crust that was not GF but he thankfully allowed me to gouge out some of the lemon layers and avoid the crust. The top layer of the three was a whipped concoction that was not super sweet but also not heavy. The middle layer was something like the filling of a lemon bar, it had the most lemon flavor but it was also the sweetest. The bottom layer, which I ate nervously as it was the closest to the crust, was a very creamy, decadent filling that was the least lemony of all. When all three layers were eaten together it made me glad I was living dangerously because it was extremely good. I don’t know why it was not on the menu but I was sure glad my dad thought to ask for a recommendation!
It was so fun to share with my family the exploration of a new restaurant, and we are always looking for new options because it is me, my mother, and my sister who all have to avoid gluten. I had a satisfying experience at El Greco and will be back for more very soon! The staff was great and very well versed on what contains gluten and what does not and it was a relaxing instead of frustrating experience. I would recommend them to anyone and everyone with food allergies.
I wonder if they sell their tzatziki in bulk?