You don't just stumble upon George's Kitchen. You have to seek out the cheery diner-luncheonette-cafe in Sound Beach, miles from well-traveled thoroughfares. I heard of it from a reader, who deems it a genuine "cheap eats" find.
It is. Owner George Zois and his team put out a roster of daily lunch and dinner specials priced well under $20; included in the deal are a baked clam, a salad and soup.
My savory baked littleneck holds a fluffy bread stuffing dotted with bits of clam meat. A bowl of chicken pasta soup, while a tad salty, is heartwarming. Zois, who hails from Greece, makes a robust Greek salad topped with anchovies, olives and lots of feta.
I like the fork-tender sauerbraten in a sweet-tangy gravy, accompanied by light (if somewhat bland) potato dumplings and red cabbage. Our waitress highly recommends the chicken "du chef," a plate-sized cutlet layered with eggplant, ham and mozzarella in a Marsala sauce. It works. Tender lemony chicken Francaise makes for another generously portioned winner.
A friend orders a combination of Romanian tenderloin and stuffed shrimp. The shellfish is nicely broiled, topped with Zois' light and likable bread stuffing; the fibrous steak oozes rich juices. Side dishes include bright garlic-sauteed broccoli, homey mashed potatoes and buttery rice.
From the regular diner-style menu, I sample a turkey wrap with melted Swiss, roasted red peppers and fried eggplant, and a nice juicy burger. A Western omelet with home fries turns out straightforward and fine. And there's no shortage of fruit or nuts in the thick banana nut pancakes.
Here, desserts rule. Banana cream pie is a lush, home-style treat topped with freshly whipped cream; close runners-up are chocolate cream pie and bread pudding.
What the menu terms crabmeat is actually an impostor, white fish processed to resemble crab. It threads through the somewhat gluey seafood bisque. Then, there's the sad iceberg house salad for which you can sub a Greek or Caesar.
Our server spritzes aerosol whipped topping on a slab of chocolate cream pie already wearing a crown of freshly whipped cream.
If you want perfection, seek it elsewhere and prepare to pay more. But for simple, satisfying affordable eats, try setting your GPS for Sound Beach. --Reveiwed by Joan Reminick, 1/12/09
Dining with kids: A pleasant diner-style spot off the beaten path but worth seeking out for hearty helpings of homestyle food. Whether you get a burger, wrap, or plate of sauerbraten, don't forget the banana cream pie for dessert.