Greek Islands Cuisine: The Moussaka Mothership

This terrible economy is unsurprisingly wreaking havoc on our restaurant scene, claiming victims almost weekly. One of its lucky survivors is Greek Islands Cuisine, a 16-year-old Irvine business that recently had to shutter a location in Diamond Jamboree, the shopping plaza in the city that's a wonderland of Asian delights. It was never a comfortable fit, and Greek Islands closed its doors in August, citing the economy.

Yet it hasn't truly left us: The mothership remains tucked away in the Main Street Plaza food court, treated as a lunch-hour gut-stuffer by thousands of corporate drones. The tenants at this food court (which seemingly hasn't upgraded its design since the Deukmejian administration) come and go, save for Greek Islands, which knows how to take orders fast and cheaply, yet never suffers a loss of quality in the pandemonium that is serving workers who order while continuing a conversation over their Bluetooths. The menu seems simple enough, as Greek Islands depends on the gyros/souvlaki/salad triumvirate that rules most American Greek restaurants. They're all fine here, but choose the flashes of originality: ruddy, soft lamb chops, slipping off the bones before you can fork through them; a slab of moussaka, decadently earthy; spanakopitas, flaky and creamy. The keftedes, lamb-and-beef patties, beg for a home inside a bun, but instead rest on a bed of rice—succulent, filling, perfect for a quick meal.

The standards are delicious, but I'm always looking for the daily special, as the owners tend to trot out dishes I've never eaten. Recently offered was biriani, advertising its Mediterranean attributes. I've never considered the Indian standard as anything remotely Hellenic—more than anything, its inclusion at Greek Islands is probably a grab for Irvine's many Indians and Pakistanis, just like the sandwich business two counters to the right sells Chinese beef noodle soup to draw in Chinese. But the biriani is great: rice mixed with potatoes, sweet and fluffy, mixed alongside beef and vegetables and paired with a Greek-style salad that comes with a pink-hued salad dressing that looks like Thousand Island but bobs with feta cubes. These rarities were what Greek Islands was introducing in its second location, and here's to hoping that strategy is incorporated at the mothership—and that fortune may visit it so it can open another place anew after this Great Recession leaves us the fuck alone.


This column appeared in print as “Back to the Moussaka Mothership.”

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