- Griffin Swartzell
- The mezéthes plate can be a meal in and of itself.
“Our [regular] clientele base has grown drastically,” he says. Every year, the gradually built local diner base has broken attendance records for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, both outside of the big tourist bump.
Part of that loyalty comes from quality service, born from care for the customer’s experience. Regulars feel like family here. And that attitude, Topakas says, starts with treating his employees like family.
“Like every business, employees come and go... but while they’re here, they feel a sense of belonging,” he said. “I rarely walk around saying ‘my restaurant, my kitchen.’ This is our place. Yeah, it’s mine, I own it, but what would it be without [the employees]?”
While Topakas keeps the business side of things running, his kitchen thrives under executive chef Alex Plambeck, who’s been with the taverna for around eight years total and for five in his current tenure. He also praises pastry chef Ruth Henson, responsible for the switch from pre-made to house-made baklava and spanakopita.
“There’s maybe two things in the whole kitchen that we buy,” he says.
And that freshness shows. Henson’s spanakopita sandwiches a filling of tender, beautifully seasoned spinach and tangy Bulgarian feta between layers of buttery, crisp phyllo pastry. Also a fine veg option, the falafel sandwich’s zingy tzatziki, lettuce and tomato serve to freshen flavorful falafel balls, substantially denser than most around town. We pair it with a bowl of avgolémono, egg-lemon soup, a creamy dish anchored with chicken stock and egg, brightened with plenty of lemon and a little dill, then given more substance by rice.
The appetizer plate (mezéthes) shows no weaknesses. House-made gyro meat bears lovely spicing, and the meatballs delight, especially in a tomato sauce mixed with the rich braising liquid from J&T’s signature braised lamb shank (also note plenty of cumin). Dolmas, marinated olives, tangy Bulgarian feta, fresh tomatoes, tzatziki, hummus, and warm pita triangles from Denver’s Economy Greek Foods Corporation round out the plate. It’s plenty of food per dollar.
More affordable than $20-ish entrées, sandwiches all satisfy. A Greek dip sees tender lamb leg — no gaminess present — under provolone on a hoagie roll, paired with a surprisingly light thyme jus. Our side, garlic mashed potatoes, comes with what my guest dryly describes as “sufficient butter.” They’re rich, indulgent and packed with garlic, made extra creamy with cream cheese. The Jake, basically a quality chicken club sandwich, also does fine.
We skip the “ask your server for the flavor of the day” cheesecake — it’s been baklava cheesecake, packed with crumbled bits of their house-made honey-nuts-phyllo dessert, for at least four years, and Topakas predicts customer mutiny if they ever change it again. The coffee crème brûlée we tried comes with a crisp caramel layer atop rich coffee custard, served with fresh whipped cream and espresso beans for a refreshing crunch.
Whether it’s the staff-as-family dynamic that’s truly behind J&T’s strength and community appeal, as Topakas says, or just good ingredients receiving proper care under talented hands, from where we sat, we were just glad to savor damn good food. Here’s to another 20 years.