On a recent rainy, Tuesday afternoon, I happily basked in the rays of sunshine that streamed from my steaming bowl of Avgolemono Soup at Markos Restaurant in Westerly's Merchant Square shopping center.
The eatery recently moved to town from Narragansett, where an expiring lease presented the chance to leave a kitchen too small for this growing restaurant and catering business that also sells its hummus, tzatziki, roasted eggplant dip and tabouleh by the pint.
And in Westerly, Markos' Avgolemono - a big bowl of creamy, tart, chickeny, orzo-filled love - is a hit. So much so, according to our efficient and charming waitress, that it has moved from a special to a regular item, bumping another soup right off the nicely proportioned menu of Arabic, Greek and Mediterranean delights.
For this late lunch, the restaurant was quiet, with only three other parties served during the course of our meal. With Middle Eastern music playing quietly in the background, mingling with aromas of the region's spices, it really was quite lovely at our table in one of the restaurant's large front windows.
The restaurant is roomy, allowing for privacy and comfortable conversation at the tables and booths spaced throughout. The deep blue walls, wood trim and red booths begin to create an atmosphere, but this is still a shopping center, albeit a well-maintained one. Formerly one of Westerly's many Chinese restaurants, the space has a new, clean interior, but it feels somewhat out of character with the rich tradition of the food. But never mind that. Just taste, and it's easy to forget about the decor.
We chose hummus with pita chips ($4.99), and falafel ($5.99) as our appetizers. The piping hot falafel was shaped like mini donuts, fried crunchy on the outside, creamy and fragrant with spices on the inside. The generous portion came with its own garlicky hummus.
The pita chips - thin and hot, fresh from the fryer - were accompanied by a plate of hummus, its ground garbanzo creaminess a perfect foil for the crunchy, salty chips.
Next, our soups arrived in big, cut-glass bowls with a wedge of pita tucked neatly between bowl and plate. I went with the Moroccan Couscous Soup ($4.99) - a rich, exotically spiced tomato soup featuring mushrooms and chicken. Delicious. It was my husband who ordered the Avgolemono ($4.49), although I certainly ate most of it.
For our entrees, I chose the Turkish Lamajeen ($9.99), described on the menu as a "flatbread pizza with ground lamb and spices, served with salad & tzatziki." My spouse went with the House Curry ($9.99) with lamb (add $6.99), "A blend of vegetables cooked in a medium hot/spicy tomato curry."
When the man whose face is on the sign out front brings you your meal, you know you're really being taken care of. The plates were beautiful. My lamajeen wedges and a perfect, vinegary salad were arranged around a mound of cooling tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce). My husband's vibrant curry was draped over a plate of yellow rice, and topping it off were two, perfectly grilled lamb chops.
It was all so pretty and so delicious that I went back the next day just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.
This time, I tried takeout - a wrap, the Cypriot Combo ($7.49), "Grilled chicken breast & souvlaki with lettuce, tomato, pickles, hummus & tzatziki." The restaurant was much busier, but that didn't affect the food. This giant wrap was stuffed with tender chicken, succulent souvlaki (a kind of spicy, meatloaf, grilled and sliced thin), tangy pickles, fresh tomatoes and the right amount of lettuce, united by the creamy hummus and tzatziki. Messy, but so worth it.
Other menu options include spanakopita, calamari, an array of kabobs, moussaka, beef tajine and even chicken tikka masala. There is a children's menu - macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and chicken fingers, each for $3.99 - and Markos offers a BYOB option ($3 cork fee), with some suggested wine pairings on its website.
The menu also includes Arabic coffee, a house-blend cardamom coffee, iced green tea, and a homemade lemonade, yogurt and pomegranate drink.
Narragansett's loss truly is Westerly's gain.