Whether you’re approaching the Friendly Greek from the east or the west, you can’t miss the signs announcing “Gyro” in huge red letters. The new restaurant, which takes over the Merrick Road location occupied, until January, 2015, by the Seaford Palace Diner, is staking its reputation on its gyro.
Long Islanders are familiar with the “Greek specialties” section of the typical, encyclopedic diner menu; Friendly Greek has jettisoned the egg salad, reubens, and pancakes and is concentrating on getting Hellenic dishes right.
Too often on Long Island, for example, “gyro” refers to a column of ground meat that the restaurant buys, prefabricated, from a supplier. But Friendly Greek is making its own, piling marinated slices of lamb leg onto a vertical spit that cooks while it rotates (gyrates).
Partner Demitri Kalodimos conceded that some customers actually prefer the prefab column. “We’ve got both on the menu,” he said. “If people want it, we have the pre-made ground meat. But let it be known that we also do it the right way.”
That dynamic — doing it the popular way and also the right way — informs the rest of the menu. You can get the classic diner-style Greek salad, with iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and pickled peppers, or you can get the “real” Greek salad, horiatiki, with no lettuce, just tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, anchovies and feta. You want lettuce? Order the maroulasalata, shredded romaine with dill and scallions. (Salads range from $7 to $15.)
Other Greek specialties include appetizers such as grilled octopus ($18.99), grilled Greek loukaniko sausage ($8.99), a “crispy tower” of fried zucchini and eggplant ($8.99); mains: moussaka ($16.95), pastitsio ($16.95), whole branzino ($19.95) and grilled lamb chops. Each table is set not with ketchup and mustard, but with extra-virgin olive oil from Kalamata, Greece, and uncharacteristically, balsamic vinegar. (Give us a wedge of lemon any day — as Socrates recommended.)
Kalodimos has spent his career working at diners (including the North Shore in Commack and the Highlight in Port Jefferson), but he sees the sun setting on the classic LI diner because it’s increasingly difficult to make a profit. “We made this trap for ourselves,” he said. “We compete for who has the biggest menus, the biggest portions, the longest hours. The costs of inventory and labor are killing the mom and pops.”
Although it’s been brightened and spiffed up with a nautical décor (and the obligatory murals depicting the Aegean Sea), the Friendly Greek still looks like the diner it once was. “Yes people come in and say ‘why can’t I get French toast?’ ” Kalodimos admitted, “but we want to concentrate on doing something really special.”
The Friendly Greek is at 3864 Merrick Rd., Seaford, 516-900-1333.