Dec. 29, 2004 - Issue #480: The Canadian Invasion
Opa springs eternal
Friendly staff and amazingly quick service make Opa! an instant Whyte Ave classic
In preparation for New Year’s Eve, my bride and I were scouting the Whyte terrain, mapping out the best eats—drinking time is best extended by copious amounts of food. Seeing as we had a Christmas-crippled budget and a hankering for Greek cuisine, we took a chance on Opa! Prominently placed in the “Old Strathcorner” (a nickname for the building risen from Uncle Albert’s ashes), Opa!’s narrow storefront belied their capacity for feeding hungry Whyte walkers. They could fire out a dish in nearly the time it took to order. Above the counter, a friendly menu in bright blue boasted exuberant photographs of various inexpensive entrées.
We took our time to decide, allowing a few famished customers to pass us as we deliberated in the busy little shop. While there weren’t many menu choices, each could be made with assorted options. However, the variety distracted us less than the staff did. Their warm hospitality, fluid grace and economy of movement were wonders to behold as they flashed into action with the first words of each order. My bride’s chicken souvlaki platter ($6.99) was halfway down the assembly line and a generous portion of calamari was nearly ready by the time I paid for my calamari caesar ($6.49). We added a couple of fountain pops ($1.39) and an order of baklava each ($1.99) to round out the meal. The sheer mass of food on our cafeteria trays was a little daunting, but we bravely accepted the challenge and found a table in their tiny dining area.
My wife’s chicken was tender and grilled to perfection, effortlessly peeled apart to release a heavenly aroma; she grudgingly allowed me a small taste. The fresh-tasting tzatziki generously ladled onto her plate complemented the skewered meat nicely, and there was more than enough to dip her pita and Greek potatoes in as well. Even mixed in with the tasty rice pilaf, the universal appeal of the tzatziki accentuated every flavour it touched.
My calamari Caesar was a little more basic in composition, but rivaled my bride’s dish in size. One half of the plate was piled with thick, green romaine lettuce in a creamy garlic Caesar dressing; the other half was piled just as high with more calamari than you’d see as an appetizer at many restaurants. A few croutons attempted to roll away to freedom as I attacked the mountain of food, but I’m proud to say that I let none escape. The Caesar dressing was a little light on the garlic for my taste (probably to the benefit of anyone I talked to afterwards), and the calamari was deep fried deliciousness. My meal was wonderful, balancing breaded calamari’s heavy crunch with light, crisp green lettuce. Quite full, I was still a little disappointed to reach the end. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the baklava, but since we started making it ourselves, we have become a little pickier about the flaky dessert.
I had been very close to dismissing Opa! as a fast-food place, but everything from the dishes to the warm staff make the experience less like fast food and more like “slow food, delivered quickly.” Every Greek restaurant I’ve ever enjoyed has meant joining a boisterous, charming family for the length of my stay; Opa! was no different—we were even invited to share our baby luck by rubbing the belly of the beautifully pregnant woman behind the till! We traded jokes with the enthusiastic owner and smiled at the warm inclusiveness extended to every customer. I’m looking forward to a wild New Year’s Eve and a safe cab ride home: I know that I’ll be able to satisfy my cravings for Mediterranean delights. Opa New Year! V
8209–104 St • 436-1442
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