Food critic

The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.


At Our Mom Eugenia, diners are treated like family members. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Our Mom Eugenia

(Good)

Brandy-splashed, fire-torched cheese and a tepee of skewered lamb, chicken and beef are sights to behold, but honestly, the hospitality is as much of a lure as the food prepared by Eugenia Hobson. Her two sons and co-owners make fine ambassadors, fussing over diners as if they were family, behavior that’s mimicked by the rest of the staff. Compliment a waiter for neatly deboning your whole dorade, and he might tell you, “I went to the school of grandpa” back in Greece. Old barn wood and prints of urban life do their best to warm up the storefront. Too-sweet endings allow a diner to dispatch more up front: Silken whipped fish roe, fresh-tasting spanakopita and roast chicken (an occasional special) should lead your list.

2 stars

Our Mom Eugenia: 1025 Seneca Rd., Great Falls, Va. 703-870-7807. ourmomeugenia.com.

Prices: Mains $16-$30.

Sound check:74 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.

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The following review was originally published August 23, 2017.

Greek cooking just like Mom made (because Mom actually made it)


A trio of spreads, from top: skordalia, taramasalata and fava. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Saganaki at Our Mom Eugenia in Great Falls, Va. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

(Good)

Brothers Phil and Alex Hobson showed everyone how proud they were of their mother when they named the Greek restaurant they were opening with her last December. Three words — Our Mom Eugenia — pretty much convey the sense of family customers can expect at the homespun enterprise, a replacement to a pizza place tucked in a shopping center in Great Falls. 

Two words — Eugenia Hobson — are all the tip you need to check out the menu. Before going into business with her sons, Hobson cooked at the reputable Nostos in Vienna and Mykonos Grill in Rockville. She knows her way around spanakopita and lamb chops.

Having dropped by a couple times recently, I admire the chef as much for her parenting as for her cooking skills. Phil, a former basketball player in Greece and Italy, and Alex, a former Internet executive overseas, are solid ambassadors in the dining room, turning first-timers into regulars with their ready smiles and carefulness. Watching the brothers inspect the tables with the eyes of generals surveying troops makes me wish more restaurants made sure to brush crumbs from seats between uses.


Brothers Phil, left, and Alex Hobson started the restaurant with their mother, Eugenia, who is executive chef. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

The interior doesn’t immediately sell you on the place; bare tables and Edison lightbulbs are pretty common dress for restaurants. A few minutes (and an order of flaming cheese) in, however, you come to admire the small attentions that create a personal statement.

Handsome prints by artist friends in Athens show off contemporary cityscapes. Old barn wood makes for rustic wainscoting. Greek record covers, testament to Alex Hobson’s vinyl crush, amplify the hall near the kitchen. Where did everyone in the area go for birthdays and business dinners before Our Mom Eugenia opened? I’m always there when multiple oak tables are pushed together to accommodate some gathering or another.

If there’s more than one of you, ease in with some spreads. Eighteen dollars buys a trio, and practice has taught me to spring for the puree of yellow split peas sparked with minced red onion (fava, not to be confused with the bean), potatoes mashed with garlic and olive oil (skordalia) and fish roe, olive oil and lemon juice whipped into a pink dip. The last, taramasalata, touts the silken texture of mayonnaise and a delicate taste of the sea. 

If you ate only vegetables here, you’d dine well. Fresh-tasting spinach, onions and feta enhance every bite of spanakopita, phyllo-wrapped triangles offered as both an appetizer and a main course. On another plate, thick-cut beets shine. Tangy with balsamic vinegar and showered with crushed pistachios, they circle a scoop of mom’s good mashed potatoes, set off with an olive garnish.

The chef hails from the Greek island of Zakynthos, where fish gets a lot of attention and the food tends to be lighter, says Phil Hobson. Fingers of fried cod in a light batter, a starter served with skordalia, back him up. Moussaka does not. Then again, no one orders layers of eggplant, ground beef, potatoes and a curtain of bechamel thinking it’s going to be light. For my taste, the construction here is a smidge sweet with warm spices.


Server Dennis Roumeliotis expertly debones a fish for diners. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Hospitality is not exclusive to the owners. Meet Dennis Roumeliotis, a waiter of wit and flair.  

“So glad to have you!” the District native introduces himself, along with a basket of grilled bread, one night.

Splashing some brandy on a slab of white cheese, then setting it on fire — much to the surprise, then the delight, of nearby diners — the server tells his audience, “I thought you might be a little cold.” The leaping flames are extinguished with a splash of lemon juice, resulting in a crusty, melty, tangy saganaki.

Roumeliotis is happy to steer you to something delicious on the wine list. His name in Greek, Dionysus, refers to the ancient god of wine, he humble-brags as he opens a syrah-merlot blend (Dyo Elies) that he compares to a “baby Barolo.” Complimented for the way he fillets an order of whole dorade, he pays credit to his teacher. “I went to the school of grandpa.” The dorade, also known as sea bream, is delectable, requiring only a squeeze of lemon. A side plate of zucchini, broccoli and potatoes, everything flecked with dill, serves as a pleasing escort.


The mixed grill includes lamb chop, beef fillet and smoky chicken. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Apple cake a la mode. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

There are two more staples of the Greek kitchen I always look forward to: soft string beans in tomato sauce and crisp-tender roast potatoes, typically served as companions to entrees. The keys to nailing the latter are slow roasting and seasonings including oregano, rosemary, olive oil and lemon in particular. (Where would Greek food be without lemons?) Both side dishes accompany the mixed grill, a juicy tepee of skewered marinated lamb chop, ropy beef fillet and smoky chicken. Green beans and lemony potatoes also shore up roast chicken, a special that merits a line of its own on the standing menu. The bird is crusty where it should be and succulent throughout.

“The only way this could be better is if you were on Santorini with a view of the Aegean!” It’s Roumeliotis (Dennis) again, dropping off some last impressions — and here we part ways. The baklava is too sweet by half, the glassy orbs of fried dough taste raw in their centers and orange cake is sodden with syrup. If you want dessert, the cinnamon-rich apple cake is the path of least resistance.

Sorry, Mom!

At the same time, thank you, Eugenia, sons and team. Restaurants as personable as yours don’t come along every day.

The restaurant addresses the social climate abroad with a chalkboard quote in the foyer: “Despite the horrible inequities in Greece, charity, generosity, kindness, sympathy, spontaneity are virtues which Greeks as a whole possess to a high degree.”

The compliment was paid by American writer Henry Miller in 1939, but is just as apt, here in the Virginia suburbs, today.