PONTOS TAVERNA, just half a block from the Garden Cinema in downtown Norwalk, is an old-fashioned Greek place, with a family atmosphere that comes straight from the owner. Nikolaos Kiriakidis opened Pontos in April of 2011 with his seven siblings; his father, Teddy (the chef); and his mother, Anna (the hostess). “We worked in other restaurants,” Nikolaos Kiriakidis explained, “and finally decided to open our own.”
The word Pontos dates back to Xenophon and can refer to a region of Greece on the Black Sea — the “hospitable sea.” Hospitality is a strength of the restaurant. The simple storefront — Hellenized with sheaves of wheat and scythes and other farm implements and blue and white tablecloths (like the colors of the Greek flag in front) — is as warm, welcoming and homey as the food, which has an authentic flair, and comes in big portions with reasonable prices. When I noticed a nearby table of middle-aged Greek men, I half expected them to leap up, handkerchiefs in hand, and dance a pontiaka to “Never on Sunday.”
It didn’t happen. But the atmosphere on a Saturday evening was exuberant — and very noisy.
My friends and I had a hard time hearing one another over the din, but we had no trouble tucking into the food, which was served quickly and in herculean portions.
We began with a few starters. One of those was xtipiti, a big scoop of mashed feta, flecked with hot red pepper, which we spread over thick slices of psomi spitiko, grilled house-made bread.
Just as tasty was avgolemono soup, a delicate broth thickened with egg yolk, spiked with fresh lemon and little bits of chicken. Flaming saganaki, another Greek standby, was a large salty cheese square, served sizzling hot.
On the other hand, dolmades — tangy grape leaves stuffed with rice — could have been from a jar, even though, like almost all the food at Pontos, they are often made on the premises.
A standout dish among entrees was xtapodi, segments of incredibly tender octopus, which arrived on an otherwise bare dinner plate. Delicious as the octopus was, the plate, for the “market price,” $23.95, could have used a few salad greens or some accompaniment. Be forewarned: market price menu items (mostly seafood), were double and sometimes triple Pontos’s average entree prices.
Carnivores will be very happy here. Pikilia, for instance, included a large platter of souvlakia; a well-marinated, tender lamb chop; a loose and beautifully seasoned beef patty; and chopped gyro lamb, along with tzatziki — cucumber-speckled, dill-scented yogurt.
Such large servings of meat really do require side dishes, but Pontos doesn’t offer many — fried potatoes, rice, pan-fried fiery hot peppers and our favorite, gigantes, large white beans baked in a delicate tomato sauce.
A market-price entree called bakaliaro (pan-fried, battered scrod) came with nothing but a baked potato, which seemed skimpy, given the price ($23.95). The grilled meat dishes, like gyro or souvlakia (pork or chicken) either à la carte (off the spit) or on a platter were a better value. Orzo is not on the menu as a side, but a yummy mound of it, buttery and well-seasoned, plus a few greens, did grace a souvlakia platter — a skewer of well-seasoned chicken bits — one of many entree bargains at $8.95.
Two of us at lunch ordered tigania, sautéed hunks of white meat chicken, sautéed with onions in olive oil, lemon and fresh oregano. One entree was more than enough for two people to share.
The restaurant offers only a few desserts, but they are classics: tiramisù, baklava (made by Anna Kiriakidis, the owner’s mother) and rizogalo, a cinnamon-accented rice pudding — a special triumph prepared by Teddy Kiriakidis, the chef.
The same word — triumph — could be used, over all, for Pontos, a great place to go for a family-style Greek “fix,” and a budget fix as well.
7 Isaac Street
THE SPACE A wide storefront restaurant seating 60, artfully decorated with a few Greek artifacts and flag. Cacophonous when full, especially on weekends; noise levels can make conversation difficult. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Families (many of them Greek), couples and small groups, casually dressed. Friendly, helpful waiters, most of whom are related to the owner of the restaurant.
THE BAR No bar, and very small wine list, limited to 10 Greek wines, two of them dessert wines, priced from $15 to $27 per bottle; all 10 wines are available by the glass for $5 to $9. Bottled beer available for $4.95.
THE BILL Extremely reasonable prices for both starters (from $2.95 to $11.95, many in the $5.25 to $7.95 range) and entrees ($5.95 to $16.95, with most under $12), almost all served in enormous portions. “Market price” entrees run in the $17 to $26 range. Same menu for lunch and dinner, but lower prices for lunch entrees and for some salads. Most major credit cards are accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Xtipiti, avgolemono, dolmades, saganaki, gigantes; xtapodi, bakaliaro, gyro platter, pikilia, tigania, souvlakia platter; Teddy’s homemade rice pudding, tiramisù.
IF YOU GO Open Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended. Limited street parking in front of restaurant; pay parking lot across the street.
Published: December 28, 2012