Constantine “Dino” Kolitsas wants to expand Greek food beyond the diners and grab-and-go pizzerias where it is most commonly found in Connecticut.
“When it was introduced to the United States, Greek food wasn’t introduced in the way that we enjoy it at home,” he says. “It was introduced in the diners, and the pizza shops and the luncheonettes.” He adds, “My father was a diner chef and he was a great chef. But it’s a different approach.”
Owners of diners and high-volume pizza shops tend to look for dishes they can produce in bulk, and they freeze items, Kolitsas says. “It’s done for mass production.”
The solid-yet-seldom-exceptional cuisine offered at these eateries is a far cry from what Kolitsas enjoyed growing up with his Greek family in Danbury. It’s also a far cry from the cuisine he offers at his new restaurant, Greca Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar in New Milford.
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Located in a plain shopping center next to a Big Y supermarket, Greca is surprisingly transportive. Stepping inside the chic, open atmosphere makes you forget all about the parking lot, as does the food prepared by chef de cuisine Jeff Flad. The moussaka ($18) — eggplant and potatoes served over ground pork and lamb, and topped with creamy, feta-infused béchamel sauce — is worth a visit on its own. As is the gyro carvings dish ($17), an unassembled gyro sandwich with lamb and beef, tzatziki and pita. It’s served with a side of Greek fries, a wonderful marriage of feta cheese, oil and fries that will appeal to fans of poutine. The Faroe Islands salmon ($28) is a must-order for fish lovers. It comes on a bed of sundried tomatoes and tarhana, a dried grain that reminds me of couscous, and it tastes the way salmon should but rarely does when you order out. Appetizers include tzatziki ($8), hummus ($7) and other dips served with warm, thick pita bread.
In addition to Greek cuisine, the restaurant offers Italian classics such as eggplant and chicken parmesan ($18) and several pasta dishes. Desserts are prepared by pastry chef Christala Christou, a family friend of Kolitsas’ who had long impressed him with her traditional Greek pastries. Get the sampler plate ($21), featuring baklava and galaktoboureko, a standout cake with milk custard and phyllo dough, as well as imported Greek yogurt topped with traditional sour-cherry preserves.
Kolitsas, also the owner of New Milford Pizza Station next door, is a longtime restaurant industry professional and consultant and is the editor of the English-language section of Estiator (The Restaurateur), a nationally distributed magazine for owners of Greek restaurants.
Kolitsas takes pride in his restaurant’s atmosphere. “At Greca I don’t sell food, I sell an experience and great food is a key component of that experience,” he says. “I use the word hospitality over service.” He adds that he wants people who dine at the restaurant to feel as though they are guests in his home. “It’s all about that warmth.”
During my first incognito visit, before Kolitsas knows I’m writing a story, I try to keep a low profile but I am engrossed in friendly conversation with Kolitsas while at the bar enjoying an excellent cocktail called the Socratic Method ($11), made with bourbon, fresh sage and Roots Rakomelo, a Greek grappa. “What do you do for work?” Kolitsas asks. “I write for Connecticut Magazine,” I answer, without mentioning that food is one of my specialties. I wish I thought of a better cover story, but in the scores of restaurants I visit each year for this job, no one’s ever shown this much interest.
Kolitsas has worked with several restaurants in New York City where many new Greek restaurants have opened in recent years. Kolitsas’ goal with Greca is to bring that quality Greek restaurant to Connecticut and to “share my love for this cuisine, my love for the culture.”
So far he’s meeting that goal.
Greca Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar
1 Kent Road, Unit 5, New Milford
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (brunch till 3). Closed Mon.