Delia's Mediterranean Grill & Brick Oven Pizza

Mediterranean, Pizza
$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Updated classic in Alexandria

By Julia Beizer
Friday, January 22, 2010

At a glance: Like many kids raised in Northern Virginia, George Theodorou and Christian Falatko spent a good chunk of their childhood traveling to and from soccer games. They forged a friendship on the field that lasted through high school, Falatko's years managing food services at high-end eateries and Theodorou's studies for a business degree at George Mason University. Last April, in partnership with George's sister Alki, they opened their first business together: Delia's Mediterranean Grill & Brick Oven Pizza.

We can't give them all the credit for the idea, though. Delia's is a spinoff of another Delia's, a casual Mediterranean restaurant in Springfield that the Theodorous parents, Ted and Soula, opened in 1981. The younger Theodorou and Falatko decided to take the family recipes and adjust them to fit the sleek, modern dining room they planned in Alexandria.

"We didn't want to lose who we are and how it all started because you don't have a restaurant that lasts for 30 years if you're not doing something right," Falatko says of the original Delia's. "All we really wanted to do was spruce it up: make it hip, make it fun . . . just kind of update it."

In the Alexandria location, a striking painting of a tree by artist Luiza Vizoli signals that this space is not your average casual-dining spot. Pendant lamps throw warm light on the sand-colored tiles that cover the walls. The dining room is more polished than many restaurants with entrees priced in the teens, but not so fancy that you'd feel uncomfortable stopping in after a movie at the AMC Hoffman Center across the street.

On the menu: The restaurateurs didn't want to tweak Ted and Soula's recipes too much, merely to change their preparations and presentations slightly. So chicken wings are grilled and glazed with a sweet honey-chipotle sauce. A sprinkle of paprika and strip of lemon zest add color and flavor to the restaurant's hummus. Deep-fried balls of cheese are nothing new, but the remoulade and drizzled balsamic greatly improve both the presentation and the flavor of the goat-cheese and potato poppers.

This old-world-meets-new approach is perhaps most visible on the halloumi crostini. The inspiration for this dish comes not from the original Delia's, but from their childhood days. When Soula drove the boys to soccer games, Falatko says, she'd often fix them a snack of an English muffin, apricot jelly and seared slices of halloumi, a cheese from her native Cyprus. At the Alexandria Delia's, slices of grilled halloumi are arranged on a piece of bread. The entire plate is doused with warm apricot preserves and brightened with a few sprigs of mint.

The owners pride themselves on their secret recipe for pizza dough. It's chewier, sweeter and thicker than the thin style that's in vogue. Under a blanket of halloumi cheese, sweet caramelized onions and salty pork mingle on the Famagusta pizza, which is named for the town in Cyprus the elder Theodorous came from. The Delia's Classico combines meaty portobellos, sausage and pepperoni.

The restaurant makes great use of sweet Italian sausage, and it shines most brightly in a penne dish that infuses a cream sauce with the woodsy flavor of mushrooms and nutmeg. Moussaka is another hit -- a tower of eggplant, potato and ground beef that's smothered in bechamel.

At your service: Service is adequate. They'll take your order, deliver your plates and refill your water, but don't expect banter.

What to avoid: Both the Salmon Tricolore and Pollo Francese dishes left me cold. I wished for more of the bright lemon flavor promised on the menu.

Wet your whistle: The restaurant has a full bar and offers a small cocktail menu, in addition to wines and bottled beers. Italian iced teas, soft drinks, coffees and cappuccino are also available.

Bottom line: Delia's captures the comfortable flavors of traditional Mediterranean fare and dresses them up in attractive presentations. The result is a restaurant that can kick the movie-and-pizza date up a notch. Although some entrees are priced in the twenties, one can eat well for less than $15.