Modeled after a classic taverna, Helen Greek is quiet when we walk up during a random hour on a Thursday afternoon. There’s no one here, yet. We’ve heard that the masses start to pile in after classes (it’s next to Rice University); the shotgun space remains packed until close.
We take advantage of the quiet and choose a quaint baby blue sidewalk table. Our waitress is well-versed in the menu, and is likely Greek herself. She talks us through over six different wines from the all-Greek wine list (which is… all Greek to us). Our perfectly chilled pours of rose and white are absolutely delicious.
We start with a green salad, which is spring embodied: bright green, with locally sourced lettuces, whole mint leaves, and sprigs of dill. It sits atop creamy celery root purée that’s a little lighter than hummus, and dotted with olive oil. A lemony dressing cuts the creaminess.
Everything here is family style and arrives when it’s ready, so we get our gyro next. (Also our waitress has finally confirmed it’s yee-roh. But she also confirms that nobody ever says it right. Including me.) It’s served open-faced, and she’s cut it in two because she knows we’re splitting it. The cool cucumber tzatiki is light on dill and topped with thinly sliced onion and bright red tomatoes. The Texas pork shoulder is more barbecue-style than sliced from the spit. The lean, tender strips are juicy, with almost no fat. Slightly spicy French fries have a nice crunch and go well with the gyro.
The greens and cheese pie is why everyone comes here. It’s Helen’s elegant take on spanakopita, with a beautifully browned sphere of phyllo dough enveloping bitter greens and tangy myzithra cheese. On top, crunchy fried capers add a salty finish. The middle is slightly gooier and creamier than the rest, but the whole thing is delicious: a Greek-style comfort food that shines in Texas.
For dessert: feta cheese mousse with “spoon sweets” preserves and olive oil thyme shortbread. The mousse is shaped like a beautiful wheel of cheese. It’s smooth and fluffy, and not too cheesy. It is savory, though, and the pile of beautiful purple fruit compote on top balances it out. Texture-wise, the crumbly shortbread ties it all together. We enjoy it with a frothy, bitter Greek frappe coffee.
Before we go, the receipt arrives under a tiny Greek column, proving that every last detail here is thoughtful and, well, Greek. But it’s a Texan sort of Greek, which may very well be the best kind.