I love Greek food. But the offerings in Charleston are very limited. There is a good gyro joint in Mount Pleasant but I’m not driving to the opposite side of town for a gyro. There are a couple Greek restaurants around town that are more tavern-like but the food is “just ok”. If you go to any of them once every two or three years that is plenty. Then again, perhaps I should have said, “were” limited. Because now there is Stella’s.
Stella’s: Not a Character in a Tennessee Williams Play but Definitely Desired
Stella’s Charleston came onto the Charleston food scene when restaurateur, Steven Niketas closed The Westendorff to transform his restaurant space into the upscale Greek restaurant: Stella’s. The original Stella’s is in Richmond, VA and has been a longtime success story there. Niketas asked his longtime friends, Johnny and Katrina Giavos, (Stella’s daughter) to partner with him and elevate Greek food in Charleston and Stella’s Charleston was born. I have been there twice already. Once for dinner and once for lunch. This review will encompass both experiences. But be warned, this is now one of my all time favorite restaurants in Charleston. It is hard to be critical when you are in love.
Because it was a diner in its first life the restaurant allocates a significant amount of space to two “U” shaped counters aka bars in the main dining room with booths along the wall. Behind the counter is the window where food comes out from the kitchen (just like a diner)… but it works and changing it would have slowed the transition and for that reason alone, I am very happy. The counter also serves as the bar and a great place to hang out for happy hour or as they call it – Meze Ora – between 4pm and 6pm on weekdays. Think Greek tapas and you get the idea.
There s a smaller side dining room as well as an outdoor patio that have tables. I don’t recall exactly how many tables but neither area is very big so space is a premium which sucks if you have a party of 5 or larger. In that case unless you want to eat very early or very late you may have trouble getting a reservation. So just keep your party to 4 or less you have many more seating options all evening long.
Ok, fine I am predictable. Both times I visited Stella’s I had the same wine. And yes it is a rosé and yes, it is delicious. Really delicious. It is from Santorini with production by Gavalas Winery and is named “Voudomato” after the grape varietal used that is indigenous to Santorini. It is a darker color than your typical French rosé but I have to tell you, I could drink this wine every day and be super content with my choice. This dry rosé is crisp and very well balanced (which seems to be a trait I prefer) with enough fruit and tannins to please a variety of palates. Too bad I can not find a store that stocks it. It is definitely gonna have to be a special order situation.
And Now the Reason Why We Need Stella’s – The Food
On my first visit, I had dinner with Gary and a couple friends. We started with the TRIA which is a sampler plate of their three spreads TARAMOSALATA (a fish roe based spread), MELITZANOSALATA (an eggplant spread) & TZATZIKI (a yogurt cucumber and dill spread), served with EVOO and GRILLED PITA. Of the three spreads I thought the eggplant dip was the best but all three were have their high notes. We also shared the GRILLED OCTOPUS which is a must for me. I used to eat a similar dish when I lived in Chicago and it was always so light and tender, I hoped and prayed it would be as good at Stella’s and it is. We gobbled it up quick.
Typical for a first visit to a new restaurant we over order appetizers because we want to try everything. Apparently, we have to try all our favorites at once to make sure the place is worth coming to. Hopefully on future visits we can pace ourselves. So in the spirit of over ordering we also ordered the SAGANAKI appetizer which is flaming Kefalograviera cheese. It too, is just like I remember. It is gonna be tough when we go back for dinner because all of the appetizers are so incredible.
The Main Attractions
At dinner we all wanted something very different which was great because we could share our entrées. Our four mains were KOTOPOULO which is traditional, oven baked chicken with herbs and lemon served with roasted potatoes; ARTICHOKE MOUSSAKA which is a vegetarian take on a traditional greek lasagna with layers of artichoke heart, potato, fennel, caramelized onion and sautéed zucchini, baked with bechamel and topped with grated cheese; BRAISED LAMB SHANK with brown butter shank sauce and I substituted the pasta for the greek potatoes; and finally the NO. 5 PASTA, think of it as deconstructed PASTICHIO, a spiced ground beef and pasta dish without the bechamel and not layered.
Mine is the Lamb Shank which was massive and fell off the bone. The sauce is rich and layered with flavors. I sopped it all up with pita once my lamb was gone. I also tasted the Moussaka and the No. 5 Pasta and both were excellent. Next dinner visit, I am definitely getting Pastichio because I loved that pasta dish and the bechamel is killer.
And For Lunch
My friend Karen joined me for lunch. Oops, little did I know she is not a fan of Greek food (too bad for her). She loved the eggplant appetizer (shown in Starters above right). When it came time for her entrée, OMG she ordered Grilled Cheese (not pictured). She said it was a fantastic grilled cheese and according to the menu it is “Famous” so what the heck. Glad they had something for her. I, on the other hand, ate the LAMB GYRO, which is open face, sliced leg of lamb (not the ground meat your normally get), fresh tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce on a grilled pita. Amazing!…. just amazing! Served with a side of Greek potatoes and Kasseri cheese. Put a fork in me…… I’m done!
Located downtown at 114 ST PHILIP ST A, CHARLESTON, SC 29403 (MAP). Phone is 843.400.0026
Lunch Hours: Monday – Friday 11a-3p
Meza Ora (Bar Only): Monday – Friday 4p-6p
Dinner: Monday – Thursday – 5p – 10p
Dinner: Friday – Saturday – 5p-11p
Sunday Brunch: 10a-3p
As Stanley said in that famous scene from A Streetcar named Desire, STEEELLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAA!