From the long lines at this new Greek spot, you’d think that Jody Adams and her partners were serving the only healthy fast food in the Fenway area. In fact, Saloniki sits next to a new Sweetgreen, the build-your-own salad place with many locations.
But what Saloniki has that few other places do is food loaded with flavor. In this cafeteria-style setting, you decide what you want and servers behind the counter spoon the goods into your container. And while you may not be expecting much from Greek fries sitting behind a sneeze guard — have you ever had fries that didn’t come directly out of a fat bath that have great texture? — these are Idaho russets that are crisp and hot. Pita chips are crunchy. Meats are juicy. Condiments that are billed as spicy, like whipped feta, have real heat.
Adams recently closed Rialto in Harvard Square after 22 years, co-owns Trade downtown, and most recently opened Porto in Back Bay. For Saloniki, she partnered with Jonathan Mendez and Eric Papachristos (one of her partners in Trade and Porto). Saloniki is the name locals use for the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, where Papachristos spent some of his boyhood.
The 68-seat restaurant is decorated with blown-up photos of everyday Greek life. There is communal seating and plenty of smaller tables, plus more seats outside, where you’re so close to Fenway Park that one night we heard a Billy Joel concert without buying tickets. We were also facing a bank of trash bins.
As you move along the line, a small pita press is the first thing you see. Someone puts in a ball of dough and the machine ejects it onto a hot, dry griddle, where it cooks for minutes. Finished pitas are stacked in a crock. Then you build your own sandwich, or gyro, as it would be called in Greece (they’re not called that here because the meat is not from a vertical spit, says Mendez).
The Herc ($9) combines braised, lightly sweetened pork, spicy whipped feta, tomatoes, onions, and Greek fries, which are thin slices rather than sticks. There is much talk among gyro lovers about whether fries belong here. I say yes! They help soak up the juices from the meat and tomatoes, and contrast with the deliciously smooth feta. The Niko ($9) is a chicken gyro with a lemony herb taste, more of those fries, and tzatziki, the garlic-yogurt sauce. These aren’t just good sandwich fillings — the bread is thick and chewy with an Old World sensibility, as if you were meant to live on it.
The George ($10.50) includes spicy little lamb meatballs, and, as the menu says, “double sauce, double Greek fries,” which makes a giant, juicy, meaty roll-up.
The Despina ($8) features zucchini-feta fritters, which are tender, browned but not crisp, with fries and garlic yogurt. The fritters are also wonderful as the vegetable on a plate ($8) — which starts with brown rice and comes with pita and a sauce — along with olive tapenade and some of that spicy feta.
For a salad, which comes with beautiful greens, you can add roasted eggplant slices glazed with pomegranate ($8) or any of the meats, including the lemony chicken ($8-$9).
YiaYia’s soup ($4) is a tomato-based bowl simmered with carrots, celery (it’s a little too al dente), and luscious gigante beans, which are huge and take the dish from something you might get anywhere to a decent bowl. It’s topped with a tiny herb salad and a preserved lemon swirl (although it’s hard to distinguish the pleasantly acidic flavor).
“Jody’s lemonade” ($3) is a delicious mix of cucumbers and citrus with a minty element. Greek iced tea ($3) is from Watertown-based Mem Tea and includes bergamot, lemongrass, and mint. There’s a single white wine, one red (both Greek varietals), and two Harpoon beers.
Baklava crisps ($4) are the thinnest, crispest versions of this classic you’ve ever tasted. It takes a clever team to reinvent this age-old sweet as something so different yet completely familiar. That’s what Saloniki is doing. You already know much of this food. Adams and team take traditional flavors and put them squarely in today’s modern, fast world.
4 Kilmarnock St., Fenway, Boston, 617-266-0001, www.salonikigreek.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Pita roll-ups, plates, and salads with meat or vegetables $8-$10.50. Smaller salads $5-$6. Soup $4. Sides $2-$3. Desserts $4-$5.
Hours Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Liquor Wine and beer
What to order The Herc (pork roll-up with fries), The George (lamb meatball roll-up), plate with zucchini fritters, salad with eggplant or chicken, baklava crisps.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.