Shortly before servers begin spewing flaming Bacardi 151° from their mouths, or enthusiastically breaking plates, or frenetically side-arm dancing with diners and each other between the tables, a loud, Greek carnival song begins to play overhead. It's an hourly cue for delighted grandmothers to take out their cameras, and for the rest of us to hunker down.
My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, part of a small Arizona chain owned by Ryan Field, channels the spirit of its obnoxious namesake film, then flings it all over every inch of an old Romano's Macaroni Grill on North Academy Boulevard.
White metalworks are bolted to the tops of the dark wood booths, and a wall mural features a raging Zeus destroying a temple with a chain. Letters on the host stand shout "OPA" to the incoming, while the menu is rife with phrases like kali orexi (bon appétit) and yasou. In fact, the latter is heard everywhere you go: when the phone is answered, when you walk through the door, and when your server greets you. (After that, the friendly service is basically on par with your average chain restaurant, which is to say they "don't know" when you ask them questions, but are "happy to go check.")
And let's not forget the recipes, apparently created by Zeus, offering "a treat fit for the gods."
The crazy thing is, that's mostly true — or, at least, true for gods who dig Americanized Greek food.
No question, most dishes are either over- or wrongly sauced. A $16 battered sea bass filet comes fried so hard it has to be cut with a knife, while its tomato and basil relish overwhelms any of the fish's subtle flavor. The beefy, house-made dolmades arrive topped in a lemon juice roux that cancels out any hint of mint. Even the flaky "spinach pie" spanakopita is covered in a spinach-and-butter purée.
But the dolmades and the spanakopita still taste pretty good, nuance be damned. And they arrive on the Fat Greek Combo ($16) appetizer, which is literally the size of a large paella pan, and includes large marinara-covered meatballs, and a smooth, tangy hummus.
So what else is worthwhile? The Taverna Spicy Pasta ($9), with Parmesan, tomatoes and grilled chicken ($3 extra), is cooked al dente with an actually spicy cream sauce. The calamari ($9), battered rings and tentacles, are light, with a delicious house-made cucumber and pepperoncini aioli. A favorite, the fresh Aegean Club ($10) is huge — four pita pockets stuffed with grilled chicken breast, gyro meat, bacon, lettuce, red onion and a nice chipotle mayonnaise — and very filling, especially with the great Greek salad side. The wood-fired Parthenon pizza ($10) pops with pepperoni, more grilled chicken, red peppers, tomatoes, onions and pepperoncinis.
A meal-ender of dry and crumbly house-made baklava ($5) is infinitely skippable, but if you're a meat-for-dessert type, like yours truly, the three buttery Colorado lamb chops ($19), topped with a super-rich lemon-Dijon-oregano sauce, are a definite winner. And if you happen to be cutting into them while servers are running around the room, nearly stumbling as they fly past your expensive dinner, hey, maybe you'll enjoy it. Or at least find it in your heart to give some points for a Big Fat Greek Effort.