Good to Go

Greek Deli & Catering in Northwest

Wednesday, April 9, 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

Greek Deli & Catering, 1120 19th St. NW, 202-296-2111, Hours: Mondays to Fridays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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