Thank Zeus this country isn’t really a melting pot. If it were, with one homogenous lump remaining at the bottom of the kettle, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of experiencing our American hodgepodge, in which Greek, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and a medley of other nationalities share their cultures with the rest of us.
That's exactly what you'll find at Delhi Caf', where John and Glykeria Christofilis, immigrants from Greece,who run the 19-year-old Holt mainstay with their two daughters, Elaine and Demitra. The family has preserved their heritage in the small-town Midwest environs of Delhi Township. Like the restaurant's identity, family is essential to the couple.
"If you want to learn about family, go to a Greek house," Glykeria says.
She had only known John for a month when she moved to the United States with him in 1975; he had already established himself here. It was difficult to leave family behind, she says, but three children and two successful restaurants later, the couple have no regrets. Still, they keep their heritage alive through church, custom and cuisine.
"When you go into a Greek home," Demetra says, "the first thing they will do is offer you food — at least fruit, bread and cheese."
Family is how Glykeria, who spends much of her time in Delhi's kitchen now that her children are grown, learned to cook in the first place. Back in southern Greece, Glykeria learned to cook from her mother. Vegetables and simple ingredients dominated their kitchen, and she learned there is no substitute for an agile mind.
"If you have knowledge of cooking, you don’t need much," Glykeria says. "I don’t use recipes. I just do it and enjoy it."
And what they do well at Delhi is comfort food.
Delhi's moussaka ($8.95) is a prized carryover from the Peloponnese, where John and Glykeria are originally from. The eggplant-based dish is celebrated in Greece, Arabic lands and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. Layers of ground beef are spiced with nutmeg, eggplant and potato and topped with an airy bechamel sauce. The alternating textures alone — firm potatoes, softer eggplant, crumbly ground beef, and the silky smooth bechemal bringing it all together — make for a fun experience.
The spankopita ($8.95) — spinach pie for those of us not versed in Hellenic vernacular — is, like the moussaka, a Greek version of comfort food: simple, delicious and hearty. Layers of delicate phyllo dough surround a mixture of spinach, feta cheese and an assortment of herbs. It's served with rice or fresh fruit, thick, juicy slices of watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe last week.
Stuffed grape leaves, with ground beef and rice, are a fine accompaniment to many of Delhi's dishes and come with the Greek sampler ($12.95), a Friday and Saturday special. Spritzed with lemon juice, the electric zing of these mouth-sized appetizers contrasts nicely with the mellower elements of the sampler including mosasaka, oven-baked potato wedges, spinach pie, and a couple of rich, lardaceous slices of lamb.
The menu, though, is far from a traditional litany of Greek favorites. It combines a slew of ethnic samplings centered around familiar favorites. There're a little Mexican, like the wet burrito ($8.45), some Italian, including chicken Catalina ($9.95), and stir fry dishes from Asian influences. There's more.
Geography aside, Delhi offers a line of seafood entr'es that includes perch, scallops, clams, shrimp and more. Sandwiches, including, of course, the gyro ($7.95), are served with fries or fresh fruit. (For some culture with your lunch, ask how Greeks pronounce gyro. Hint: it's not with a "j" or "g" sound.)
Burgers are always popular, as are the hot sandwiches, which includes a hamburger ($7.95) smothered in gravy and served with a salad and mashed potatoes. Does it get more comforty than that?
Delhi serves beer, wine and cocktails, enhancing the desirability of its banquet room, used by civic groups, for wedding rehearsal dinners, or just old friends looking for a spot to enjoy something nice to eat before playing bridge. For the Christofilis family, their restaurant is a home away from home.
"We have customers that have been here since the first day we opened," Glykeria says. "They don’t just come in to eat. It's family."
4625 Willoughby Road, Holt 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday- Friday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday (517) 694-8655 TO, WB, $$