Taverna, Palo Alto
If you’re sometimes at a loss as to what exactly to order for takeout, Taverna in downtown Palo Alto makes it easy with its new Family Meal Menu.
Founders Thanasis Pashalidis and Hakan Bala opened this convivial Greek restaurant after working at nearby Evvia in Palo Alto. Besides a la carte options, the restaurant makes it so convenient to enjoy its Hellenic cuisine with its all-in-one meals that serve 2 or more generously.
Choose from souvlaki, roasted chicken, lamb chops or whole fish “family meal,” priced accordingly. Each comes with tzatziki, homemade pita, chicories salad, grandma’s potatoes, and baklava.
We went with the Berkshire pork souvlaki ($55), six skewers of charred chunks of pork that were wonderfully tender, juicy and smoky tasting. Feel free to dollop the pork with a little of the sheep’s milk yogurt-cucumber tzatziki that’s so thick and creamy, and redolent of fresh dill.
The pita is flat and denser than others, without the characteristic pocket to open up. But what it does sport that others don’t (certainly not store-bought ones) is the great peppery taste of oregano.
The simple salad of chicories and cabbage also comes with an oregano-olive oil-lemon vinaigrette on the side. Pomegranate arils and pumpkin seeds add color and crunch.
If only all grandmas made potatoes like these — thick wedges that are crisp on the edges and creamy in the center, dressed with a little olive oil and lemon.
We ordered extra pita ($3.50 for two) to go along with the charred eggplant spread ($5.95) off the regular menu. It’s a chunky baba ganoush-like spread with plenty of garlic and tangy lemon.
We also enjoyed a la carte the grilled Spanish octopus ($14.95), which was as tender as can be, and finished with coriander, pine nuts, and sweet cipollini onions in tomato paste.
And we couldn’t resist getting the moussaka ($29.95). Think of it almost as Greek lasagna, loaded with layers of ground beef and ground lamb, potatoes, and eggplant, all held together with creamy, rich bechamel. It’s a homey dish that will definitely sate.
Dessert is included with the “family meal.” I don’t often get too excited about baklava, finding so many versions just too sweet or too gooey-soggy. This one was exceptional, with three layers of crackling crisp phyllo that stayed distinct, with ground walnuts within that had only a measured amount of honey syrup. A clove spiked through the top added a gentle warm perfume. How delicious was it? After I finished my square, I was seriously eying my husband’s to attack next.
Pro Tip: If Greek wines and spirits are, well, just all Greek to you, this is the place to give them a try. Taverna offers a couple of Greek wines and beers, and even sodas on the to-go menu. There are cocktails, as well, featuring ouzo, Greek honey, and Skinos Mastiha (a liqueur made from the resin of the Mastiha tree).
Smoking Pig BBQ, San Jose, Fremont, and Las Vegas
A decade ago, Paul Reddick gave up high tech for down-home smokers and grills — and our stomachs are the happier for it.
Reddick, a former tech sales manager, and his wife Jessica went all in on real-deal barbecue, opening their original location of Smoking Pig BBQ on 4th Street in San Jose. It was such a hit that a second location in San Jose followed, as well as one in Fremont, and even Las Vegas.
Although my husband, aka Meat Boy, has had Smoking Pig a few times before, this was my first time trying it when we picked up takeout last week. I’ve had plenty of barbecue in my time, a few mind-blowingly good and others fairly mediocre. This was surprisingly stellar.
We went with the family meal ($69.99 for 4 to 5 people), which offers a lot of bang for the buck, and can be ordered only from the 4th Street or Las Vegas locales.
The foil pan is filled with big meaty spare ribs, chicken legs, and a mound of pulled pork. All were extremely moist and tender, and the ribs had the tell-tale red smoke ring of low-and-slow barbecue done perfectly.
You get a choice of two sauces. We went with the Carolina Sassy, a tangy mustard blend; and the Classic Original, a sweet, smoky sauce. The restaurant threw in a little container of the bracing, vinegar-based East Carolina Hog Wash to go with the pulled pork.
If that wasn’t a meat fest already, my husband — I told you his nickname, right — also ordered a la carte Angus beef brisket ($14.39 for 8 ounces), which was fall-apart tender with a nice black pepper taste.
With the family meal, you also get to choose a bread. Of course, we went with the corn bread, six squares that were subtly sweet with corn kernels enfolded into the batter.
You also get a choice of three pint-sized sides. We indulged in coleslaw, crunchy and thankfully dressed with a restrained hand; mac and cheese that wasn’t clumpy, but with elbows sitting loosely in a thick, creamy, three-cheese sauce; and Southern greens of kale, chard and collards cooked until tender with bacon that added a nice smoky, porky note without becoming overly salty.
My husband also couldn’t resist ordering the Original Wolf Turds (two for $6.39). Yes, that’s really what they are called. These frat boy-named snacks are fresh jalapenos stuffed with creamy cheese and sweet sausage, wrapped in bacon, then slow cooked. Buttermilk ranch dressing comes on the side for dunking. I have to admit, they are pretty addictive. With a fresh grassy pop of flavor, these soft, smoky peppers go down easily, well, if you get a milder tasting one. And with jalapenos all being different, you just never know the amount of heat you’ll bite into, making for what can be a fun — if tear-inducing — surprise.
I don’t often get dessert at barbecue joints, just because I’m usually in a food coma already after all the meat. But at Smoking Pig BBQ, do yourself a favor and save room for the peanut butter pie, the restaurant’s signature. It is worth every calorie. It’s $5.99 for a slice at any location. Or you can get a whole pie at the 4th Street location for $45 (plus a $10 deposit to return the glass pie pan).
An Oreo cookie crust is laden with a fluffy, sweet-salty peanut butter chiffon filling, hot fudge, and a cloud of whipped cream drizzled with more chocolate. The slice does get smooshed into the takeout container a bit. While it may suffer a little in looks as a result, the taste remains totally dreamy. You tell yourself you’re only going to try a taste. Before you know it, you’ve eaten the entire thing because it’s just way too good to stop until the last bite.
Pro Tip: As mentioned, the family meals and whole pies are available locally only at the 4th Street location. This original location also offers a few items that the other outposts don’t, such as catfish fillets. So if you’re after the widest variety, that’s the location to hit up.