Elaini’s Greek Cuisine (Claremont, NH)

As I’ve mentioned a few times, there are some gaps in the culinary coverage up here in Northern New Hampshire and Vermont. Several cuisines are nearly absent: there’s no Vietnamese, for example, between Manchester and Burlington, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actual Cuban place closer than the Boston area. But one of the odder factors I’ve seen is that while there are quite a few Greek people living in New Hampshire, and even running restaurants, they usually don’t run Greek or even Middle Eastern restaurants, instead, they typically run pizza joints (often with the name “Pizza Chef” or “Village Pizza” as the name). I actually like a lot of these places (Grantham’s Pizza Chef, for example, has surprisingly good baklava, and Mexican Coke in the case). But sometimes I’m craving an actual Greek restaurant. Indeed, living in Michigan, Minnesota, or even Tennessee, it was never that hard to find a good gyro or souvlaki, but up here, it requires a bit of a drive (there are several good places in Manchester, like my already-reviewed Gyro Spot). But a few years ago, Claremont (which isn’t exactly a culinary Mecca), picked up an actual, honest Greek place: Elaini’s Greek Cuisine.

The first challenge with Elaini’s is finding the place. It’s not on Main Street, the Square, or the Pleasant Street drag. No, it’s next to the church on Glidden Street, a bit hidden from traffic. And walking in, the place is spartan: a few simple tables, and not a lot of decoration. But the one thing the place has is hospitality: a few seconds after coming in the door, the owner came out from the kitchen, welcomed us, and heartily encouraged us to look over the menu.

Menu-wise, it’s your basic Greek lunch menu, with souvlaki (skewered meat), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), keftedes (spicy meatballs), and spanakopita (spinach and cheese in pastry). A good selection of lunch items, and we opted for a combination of souvlaki (with fries) and spanakopita.

The souvlaki came out first, and I was rather pleased with it. Nice, tender little chunks of nicely marinated beef, these had the perfect texture I look for in souvlaki: a nice juicy and flavorful interior, with a nice crispy exterior sealing it all in. Add in a rather pleasant tzatziki sauce, some cucumbers, and some decently ripe tomato, served up on a rather nice pita (have to figure out where they are getting them…) and this was exactly the sort of Greek food I’ve been craving. Add in some nicely done fries on the side, and it was a pleasant lunch.

The spanakopita was particularly pleasing as well: a nice, ample portion of nicely seasoned spinach with a good layer of feta in a thick layer of phyllo, this was also pleasing. The filling was nice, smooth, and almost creamy in both the spinach and cheese. The pastry layers of phyllo were nice and buttery, and not too salty, either. The result was each forkful having a pleasant combination of spinach, cheese, and pastry.

Finally, it was time for dessert: a nice, hefty block of baklava. More nicely crispy phyllo and walnut, steeped in a nice honey sauce, like most of my favorite baklavas, this one was more spicy than sweet, and didn’t overwhelm the nuts with honey. We were pleased.

Overall, we enjoyed Elaini’s. It has a rather pleasant little niche, serving up some of the best Greek food in quite some distance. We’ll definitely come back.

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