At the bottom of Dryden Road and about half a block down from Mehak lies Souvlaki House, a Greek and Italian-inspired restaurant hidden in plain sight. Souvlaki House isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think of Collegetown eateries; in fact, I was wholly unaware of its existence until I happened to sublet an apartment on the same street over the summer. For me, places like CTB, Oishii Bowl, Koko’s and Wings Over Ithaca are the most commonly suggested destinations to grab a quick bite with friends whenever we find ourselves in Collegetown for the evening. Even now, the name Souvlaki House only conjures up vague recollections of the restaurant’s lighted sign and large windows for those who happen to walk by it on the way to their intended destination.
My curiosity about what Souvlaki House served and the establishment in general — propelled also by a personal goal of eating my way through all restaurants in Collegetown before I graduate — led me to suggest the place for dinner to a couple of friends a few weeks ago. Intending to catch up over a meal after the summer apart, I found the atmosphere of Souvlaki House to be cozy and welcoming for our meeting, where we talked about the past, the future and everything in between. The restaurant has a casual and home-y feel to it, with nods to it’s homage along the walls — pictures of the Parthenon, paintings of various Greek and Italian historical sights and framed football jerseys at every corner. The booths along the walls provide privacy for more intimate conversations and was something I appreciated especially toward the end of the night when larger, more rowdy crowds of students came by to eat their fill. The only mildly irritating thing had to do with the seating — the booths had fold-up seats (which I didn’t even know existed) that were also weirdly positioned. Basically, there was a huge gap in the seating between my fold-up booth seat and my friend’s, and in order to be seated normally, I had to scoot in between the two, leading to an awkward and uncomfortable seating arrangement.
Seating aside, each of us ordered something different for dinner after perusing the extensive menu for a good five minutes. True to their name, there was a wide variety of options in both Greek and Italian fare. They had a large list of Greek specialties alongside fresh-made pizzas, pastas and calzones. I was feeling pasta that night and ordered the Ala Vodka, which is apparently a favorite at the restaurant. Some people might look down at me for this (because why order pasta at a Greek establishment?), but I firmly believe that if a restaurant touts its Greek and Italian cuisine, it better be able to do both.
Before the pasta came, a heaping side salad for me and breadsticks for the group landed on our table. I appreciated these starters as we hadn’t ordered any appetizers and it was late in the evening. The breadsticks were toasted and brushed with a garlicky glaze on top but was nothing spectacular — just bread that looked suspiciously similar to a pack of hotdog buns. The side salad consisted of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese and an olive all soaked in a light Greek dressing. There was a little too much dressing on the salad which overwhelmed the other elements, but hey, it was free. I’ll never turn down a free salad and carbs, and there was certainly enough to go around the table.
Shortly after, the main dishes arrived on our table courtesy of a friendly and efficient waitress. I was impressed by the portion sizes of all our meals. The Ala Vodka was huge and could easily serve two people, especially after the heaping starter salad. Consisting of al dente penne with a special sauce — a house blend of marinara and alfredo sauce, vodka, basil and Parmesan cheese, the overall dish was creamy and smooth. The penne paired well with the sauce, but I would be more surprised if it didn’t — pasta goes with everything, after all. However, in terms of a flavor profile, I found the dish to be one-dimensional. Outside of the creamy sauce, there was nothing else that added flavor to the penne, and for such a huge amount of pasta I was hoping for something a little more that would surprise my taste buds. I wasn’t able to finish the huge portion by myself and had plenty left over for lunch the next day, so on the plus side it was like getting two meals in one.
My friend, who got the Chicken Souvlaki for something more true to the restaurant’s name, thought her plate was decent but nothing too extraordinary. The chicken was inconsistently cooked; some pieces were hard and burnt but others were tender, nicely salted and herby. The meat and vegetables weren’t incorporated evenly together in the pita either, so she’d get a mouthful of lettuce and not much else in the first couple bites. The tzatziki sauce was pretty good though, and overall, she thought it was better than what Terrace had to offer. Another friend who got the beef gyro echoed similar sentiments. The meal was, he said, and I quote, “Aggressively adequate.”
Overall, Souvlaki House was a nice divergence from the typical Asian-fusion places I usually end up at in Collegetown, but I’m not sure I would make it a place I frequent; for the price and the walk I think I would prefer to try out another eatery in Collegetown instead. I appreciate the ambiance, diversity of dishes offered and generous portion sizes, and would recommend it as a place to try out if you want to switch things up. However, the experience was more than just the meal — Souvlaki House also provided my friends and I a welcoming place to reconnect for a couple of hours, and the conversation we shared over a warm meal is nothing to be overlooked. For that, I’m grateful.
Serves: Italian and Greek classics
Vibe: casual, family-style