Tom Sietsema wrote about this restaurant in December 2008 as part of a longer story about cheap eats.
Some of the patrons of Greek Deli and Catering are so loyal and trusting of owner Kostas Fostieris, they simply ring him up at work and tell him to surprise them for lunch.
The anecdote is shared by Fostieris's wife, Irene, and it's supported by the lines that typically form outside the tiny business on any given workday, and by the affection so many of his customers have for the guy, who typically hovers over the big pans of homey Greek food set to the side of the cash register. "Hiya, Kostas!" a woman salutes Fostieris, briefly interrupting her cellphone conversation to place her order.
Spanakopita. Moussaka. Gyros in flavors from tuna to chicken to beef. All the Greek classics are accounted for here, and while I admire the hearty lentil soup and the homemade bread, the specials tend to make my mouth water the most. Regulars know Thursday as a day for meatloaf, but judging from my most recent visit, roast pork deserves a permanent slot, too. Fostieris, who gets to work no later than 5 a.m., marinates the pork in olive oil, lemon, white wine, bay leaf and oregano before cooking it to soft, savory satisfaction -- then dishing it out with a generous hand. The $9 entree is shored up with a green salad, a thick slice of that bread, a mound of luscious orzo and a vegetable of the day (crisp green beans on my drop-in).
The line moves fast at lunch, but if you really can't wait, you can call Greek Deli at breakfast and place a request for later pickup. Forget phoning the joint at prime time, though. The owner is too busy serving and schmoozing to answer.
(Dec. 7, 2008)
There's a reason for the line out the door every day here. "Kostas's food is the best," one regular tells me as he waits for the daily special. "That meatloaf," another woman whispers. "It will make you want to smack your mother."
Clearly, the word is out among workers in this area of downtown Washington, a culinary wasteland of chain coffee and sandwich shops. For 18 years, they have lined up for Kostas Fostieris's Greek specialties. There's spanakopita, homey meatballs, gyros, hearty platters of roast meat served with orzo pasta and salad, plus revolving specials. All are made fresh daily in the tiny kitchen. If you don't already know about this place, you should.
Fostieris arrives each day at 3 a.m. to start baking the bread that's served with soups and salads. He bakes 100 loaves each day, using a simple family recipe of flour, yeast, olive oil and water that creates a crusty, yeasty loaf that's great on its own or when used to sop up soup or sauces, which, trust me, you will do. "This bread is no good the next day because I put no preservatives in it," he says. "But it's no problem because by 2:30, it's always gone."
For takeout, I usually stick to simple things, but when Fostieris says "everything is good," he means it. The spanakopita ($8.99) is a Food section favorite: "creamy and dreamy," said one taster; more important, it's greaseless. So was the chicken gyro sandwich ($7.25), sprinkled with fresh dill, and the roast turkey platter ($8.99), thick slices of surprisingly juicy meat served with a generous side of salad and orzo. (Note to self: Figure out how he does that by Thanksgiving.) But our top choice is the monthly special of stewed artichokes with sweet peas, lemon and herbs ($7.99 small, $9.99 large), a bright, herbaceous stew that's perfect for spring. The recipe is Fostieris's mother's.
Fostieris treats all vegetables with the respect they're due. I'd be happy with a vegetable platter ($8.99) of the well-cooked string beans and enormous lima beans in a tangy olive oil tomato sauce, or the veggie pita with feta cheese ($6.70).
Indeed, the only problem at the Greek Deli, Fostieris says with a wink, is that "sometimes a customer comes late and is angry that we're out of something -- but it's better to run out of something fresh than serve stuff that's just pulled from a freezer."
-- Jane Black (April 9, 2008)