Remezo Greek Cuisine is a new Mason restaurant taking up shop in the former Tumbleweed and Deuces Wild Saloon off the Fields Ertel exit. The owners have obviously spent a small fortune gutting the place: the ghosts of the building's predecessors have been virtually erased. The faux stonework facade with terracotta shingles effectively lends the exterior a Mediterranean flair, while the inside features new, upscale furniture with tasteful, modern touches and a prominent pizza oven.
The interior seems as cavernous as ever: the bar's location remains intact, overlooking one of three separate dining areas. All the booths we saw were of the rounded, half-moon variety, which are fine, particularly if you are comfortable with the sensation that you and your food are on display.
We arrived for dinner one weekend evening to find a few diners, and the place continued to get busier as the night wore on. Our server handed us two rather ornately-bound, logo-embossed menu albums, divided into four or five main sections.
There were a lot of recognizable Greek dishes on the menu, including both Moussaka and Pastichio, two hearty, layered casseroles featuring beef, eggplant or pasta and Béchamel sauce. Gyros and skewer-grilled Souvlaki served in pitas were here, as well as several entrees I'd never before seen, like the Zouzoukakia: Greek style meatballs in red wine tomato sauce over garlic mashed potatoes.
As we munched on the supplied basket of warm, crusty bread with herbed olive oil, our waitress told us the pizza special of the day was barbecue chicken, which seemed a puzzling option for a Greek restaurant. There are other items ostensibly meant to appease American palates, like the 12-ounce New York Strip Steak, as well as roast leg of lamb and several gluten-free and pasta options.
I ordered the "Greek style" coffee to accompany our waters. The waitress asked if I'd tried it before --I hadn't, but assumed it was much like the Turkish coffee I've enjoyed, as there is a lot of crossover between Greek and Turkish cuisine. Turkish coffee is typically a very strong, thick, bitter brew that leaves a heavy sludge of molten coffee grounds at the bottom of the tiny cup. Three levels of sweetness were available, so to be safe, I chose the middle option.
The coffee arrived accompanied by a small side of vibrant syrup-soaked strips of red-orange candy. The brew overall was a little too sweet for my tastes, though it didn't stop me from quickly finishing the cup and nibbling on the candy. Next time, I'll order the bitter level and just mix in the syrupy strips for added sweetness.
We tried the Melitzano Salata appetizer, a vegetarian spread of roasted eggplant, olive oil, red pepper, vinegar and herbs, served with pita wedges. I'd imagined it'd be more like the smooth Baba Ghanoush, but we were pleasantly surprised to find it instead to be hearty, chunky and delicious. The pita points were a good vehicle on which to slather the spread, but they could have used some extra grill time to alleviate their fluffy doughiness.
My entree was the $16 "Little Lamb" pizza, which the menu describes as ground lamb "meatballs," goat and mozzarella cheeses, roasted red pepper, shaved fried garlic, green olives and arugula. The pizza was fired in the gas oven situated in clear view for us to watch. It featured a crust slightly thicker than what you'd find at a wood-fired pizza joint. It could have used more time baking to get those nice, crispy burnt edges that make pizza from these ovens so special. The taste was okay, but I was disappointed that the goat cheese and arugula were the dominant flavors. The pizza also lacked the fried garlic and meatballs. Instead, there were just some tiny ground crumbles of lamb that were so indiscernible that the pizza tasted vegetarian. If the lamb had played as prominent a role as the menu had implied, the pizza would have been more successful and wouldn't have seemed so overpriced.
My girlfriend ordered the Souvlaki, which physically looked similar to a Gyro, with marinated, grilled hunks of chicken, tomatoes, onion, parsley and tangy Tzantziki sauce wrapped in a pita and served with a side of crispy steak fries topped with feta cheese crumbles. She enjoyed the flavor of the sandwich and the crispiness of the fries (they weren't as pillowy or potatoey in the center as steak fries often are), but there were also some strange additions, like a single, whole mushroom at the top of the sandwich that was difficult to eat.
We were far too full to entertain the idea of dessert, but the usual compliment of Greek sweets are here, including house-made Baklava, rice pudding and a miniature date and walnut cake.
Overall, Remezo Greek Cuisine is off to a good start. With a few tweaks to their preparation, they could be poised to become one of the finer Mediterranean restaurants in Cincinnati.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)