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Veranda Greek Taverna dining review, Roswell

1stars5

$$-$$$

No more than a dozen diners fill the rooms of Veranda Greek Taverna, and yet somehow this meandering space with its mottled concrete floors, yellowish lighting and dark furnishings doesn’t feel empty. It feels alive. A few parties populate the dining room, patio and lounge areas, and occasionally a curtain opens to a back room where a poker league gathers around a spotlit table.

Flaming saganaki (all photos by Becky Stein/AJC)

Flaming saganaki (all photos by Becky Stein/AJC)

Waitresses congregate by the potted plants at the entrance foyer, conversing in Russian. Two husky-voiced women edge closer to two young men at one corner of the bar, and soon the bartender is popping Mythos beers for the party.

Into this scene walks an a cappella men’s choir. They briefly consult the manager, break into a rendition of “Yesterday” and leave.

“What was that about?” I ask the bartender.

“No idea,” he laughs. “They just asked if they could use the space to rehearse.” The bartender has just come to our corner of the bar with our saganaki ($7) — a square of pan-fried kefalograviera cheese that he douses with a mixture of ouzo and 151-proof rum and sets aflame with a grill lighter. “Opa!” he says with a wink.

Grind-it-yourself hummus

Grind-it-yourself hummus

The funny thing is, no one here is Greek. Not the service staff, which is mostly Eastern European, nor in the kitchen, where Spanish is the language of choice. Owner Pete Pukish isn’t even of Greek descent, though he brings in a Greek consultant. A veteran of Taverna Plaka intown, he opened Veranda in Roswell 2½ years ago with a staff made largely of former employees of that restaurant. But over the years he began attracting an international crowd more interested in the Eastern European -Mediterranean vibe than the food per se. He is the first to admit that Veranda is less a standard Greek restaurant these days than “a place to come, sit, relax and slow down.”

If you enjoy Veranda for its Euro-chill atmosphere, you will find a way to make peace with and enjoy the deracinated Greek menu. Depending on how you order, how much you spend and how well staffed the kitchen is during your visit, you will find the meal to be more hits than misses, or vice versa.

Greek wines headline at the bar

Greek wines headline at the bar

I best like eating at the bar, where the international drinks lineup holds plenty of intrigue. Signature martinis feature lemon and ouzo, or cucumber and melon. Beers range from Mythos to Russian Baltika ales in oversized bottles. When I ask the manager, Olga, to recommend a Greek white wine, she lines up three tasting glasses. She and I both agree the Boutari Moschofilero ($10 a glass) was the best of these three simple wines, with a smell like Meyer lemons and a nice finish. It reminds me a little of pinot grigio.

I also love the gratis appetizer (borrowed from the Plaka menu) that comes with each meal — a mortar holding chickpeas, garlic and oil that you grind into hummus and spread on wedges of warm pita.

While that gooey saganaki cheese is impossible to resist, I had no problems pushing aside an appetizer of grilled octopus ($9.95) that is as chewy as a cold slab of Bazooka. Much better is the mini Kleftiko ($9.95) — a crisp phyllo bundle enrobing tender chunks of lamb stew.

While I love the sound of a vegetarian moussaka ($13.95), it comes as a reheated brick of zucchini, eggplant and potato topped with an inch-thick layer of stiff béchamel that reminds me of insulation material.

Grilled lamb chops

Grilled lamb chops

Better are grilled lamb chops ($23.95), well marinated and served four to the order, that come with crisp-creamy potato croquettes and green beans dripping with garlic and oil. I don’t mind their sloppy subservience at all; soulful, limp beans are better than squeaky, flavorless ones in my book.

Still, if Veranda is going to work for me, it’s not as a place where I spend $24 on an entree. So I decide to come back on Sunday for “tapas day,” where most dishes are $5 apiece. (Funny the restaurant uses the word “tapas” rather than the nearly synonymous Greek word “meze.”)

Alas, I think we catch the restaurant understaffed as it takes far too long for our few small plates to arrive. Every time the patio door squeaks open we turn around expectantly, only to find our empty-handed waitress bringing yet more iced tea.

What eventually arrives is a huge mixed bag. Lamb souvlaki skewers ($5), served with green beans and sliced potatoes, bring four juicy hunks of meat threaded with onions and peppers — quite the steal for the price. A horiataki salad ($5) combines half-moon cucumbers, ripe tomato wedges and pitted Kalamata olives in a feta-flecked dressing. Just right.

But unseasoned fried calamari ($5) had only a damp tomato sauce to enliven it (where’s the lemon and salt?). The fibrous house grape leaves ($5) wrap unseasoned white rice. Most disappointing of all: a $12 platter of the house spreads brings stiff little scoops of this and dribbles of that in a jungle of wilting mixed greens. The flaccid pita wedges don’t have that grill-crisped texture.

So, this — afternoon tapas on the patio — is not the time to appreciate Veranda Greek Taverna. Better to go at night when the twinkly strings of lights are turned on, and a multinational crowd comes to drink, flirt, play poker and smoke from (not-Greek-at-all) hookahs. Pukish says the menu will eventually evolve in a more pan-Mediterranean direction. There will be pasta when I next visit, and I bet it will taste just right with a Greek salad and a Russian beer.

VERANDA GREEK TAVERNA
11235 Alpharetta Highway, Roswell; 678-330-1218; verandagreektaverna.com
$$-$$$

$$-$$$

Food: Hit-and-miss Greek fare
Service: Very friendly and competent. Servers go the extra mile to welcome you.
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: All major
Hours of operation: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m.-late; Saturdays, noon-late; Sundays, 12:30 p.m.-late; Mondays, closed.
Best dishes: Kleftiko, saganaki, lamb chops, horiataki salad
Vegetarian selections: Quite a few
Children: Of course
Parking: In attached lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: On patio
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: A great one
Takeout: Yes
RatingsKey_3

27 comments Add your comment

A

August 27th, 2010
7:52 am

John–you’re spot on with this review. We’ve been to Veranda a handful of times, and while we’ve been mostly happy with the food, we are disappointed they don’t have a kids menu…in the heart of Roswell/Alpharetta you’d think they’d have more than one or two requests for this. Last time we went we tried to get a small appetizer portion of chicken for our son (normally one of their tapas items, which we’ve had before when they were not officially serving tapas), but were told we had to order an $8 salad that we didn’t want and then pay an extra $5 for the chicken on the side for our son’s meal since it wasn’t “Tapas Sunday”. I even wrote to the management later stating how ridiculous this is, and they are doing themselves no favors with the many families in this area. Needless to say I never heard back, and we will never be back there. A far better choice is Tanaka in the same shopping center.

Reds

August 27th, 2010
8:16 am

I love Platka, but haven’t tried this place yet. Might be fun for a night out, but I don’t think I’ll try it just yet. I love the new rating system!

Northside Food

August 27th, 2010
8:18 am

They had a different, Greek manager when they first opened and the food was all very good, very traditional Greek. After he left, the quality started to slip and they started slipping non-Greek food into the menu. we stopped going. It’s unfortunate, because this was one my absolute favorite restaurants.

RK

August 27th, 2010
8:35 am

Might be better off going to Athens, down the street…

A

August 27th, 2010
9:06 am

We stopped going too, especially after the last time we went (using a Groupon) when they were not very friendly toward accommodating our son. They have no kids menu (in the middle of Roswell/Alpharetta!) and would not let us order a chicken appetizer that we’ve had before since it wasn’t “Tapas Sunday”. Instead, we had to order an $8 salad we didn’t want and then add on the chicken for $5. I wrote to the management to express my dissatisfaction and never heard back. We will not be returning. A far better choice is Tanaka in the same shopping center for the best sushi in North Fulton. Tanaka doesn’t have a kids menu either, but you can order chicken yakitori or other appetizers for your child without any problem.

John Kessler

August 27th, 2010
9:47 am

A – Tanaka looked interesting! I also liked that Persian market in the same center. I bought some delicious morello cherries there — the dark red, sour ones.

A

August 27th, 2010
10:05 am

John–I can’t believe you’ve never been to Tanaka! Unlike a lot of sushi places in the area, it is actually Japanese-owned and run and it’s Mr. Tanaka himself behind the sushi counter. Their lunch specials are reasonably priced, but since the place is so tiny you do need to get there early. You should check it out the next time you’re in the area.

A

August 27th, 2010
1:45 pm

Sorry for the double post, everyone. I thought my first post got eaten, so I resent it.

David

August 27th, 2010
3:52 pm

Many months ago, Greek Taverna overcharged my debit card by $16. Long story short, they were made aware of the error twice but never issued a credit.

janet

August 27th, 2010
4:23 pm

I visited Veranda and didn’t enjoy my lunch at all. As someone else suggested – better to visit Athens down the street and eat basic but good Greek food. Been there over 20 years.
But you are right, John, the Supermarket next door is excellent. I found Rosewater Ice cream and other Middle Eastern cooking supplies. I am sorry that Byblos – Lebanese food closed last summer. It was unique and delicious and authentic. But it is gone forever.

BlackSea

August 28th, 2010
12:02 am

Not every restaurant is child-friendly, nor should it be so. Ethnic-themed restaurants, especially smaller ones, can’t be expected to provide a special children’s menu. I would think it makes more sense that the parents order a meal and give part of it to their child.

Gee

August 28th, 2010
12:09 am

Do you seriously think that the majority of your readers would drive to Roswell to eat at a mediocre quasi-Greek restaurant?

A

August 28th, 2010
4:04 pm

Agree BlackSea that not every restaurant needs to be child-friendly, but to not let us order something we’ve had before off their tapas menu and making it very difficult to order something our son likes really turned us off. Even though I’m a parent, I’m the first to say restaurants don’t have to cater to kids, but when we’re trying to accommodate our child by ordering something that is on the menu, at least be nice and let us do it. If they had, I’m sure we’d go back.

reggie

August 29th, 2010
8:37 pm

we have eaten here several times and found the food not perfect, but very good and generously portioned. what we liked best was how proud everyone is about the place and how interested they all are in sharing their enthusiasm. Olga is a very knowledgable and attentive host and Trent at the bar can always make us smile with his infectious laugh and seriously crafted drinks. you never know what to expect, but it is as friendly as a neighborhood bar. we really like it

Bees Knees

August 30th, 2010
2:36 am

to A… A week menu and weekend menu, though similar, are two different menus on different days… If a Tapas Sunday has a menu, one should not expect the same menu to be available Mon. thru Sat. I live in Athens Ga and I love the Globes Nachos…. I have resigned myself to the fact that I might crave them on Sunday but I can not order them since they aren’t on the menu… bu anyhow MENUS CHANGE! it isn’t your kitchen…

John Kessler

August 30th, 2010
8:00 am

Gee – I think the 40% or so of my readers who live in the northern suburbs would consider the place if the description of the food or atmosphere appeals. The other readers might have considered it worth the drive had I found it more destination worthy. That is the nature of this game…

A

August 30th, 2010
8:12 am

Bees Knees–Normally I’d agree with you about people not ordering from the menu, but every other time we went it was the server who suggested getting a tapas plate even if it wasn’t Sunday. Maybe it’s the change in management, which we weren’t aware of, but they seemed less interested in accommodating customers. And in today’s economy and with so many other good restaurants out there, it doesn’t take much for us to take our business elsewhere.

KikiRodmcgua

August 30th, 2010
9:18 am

A find a hobby… Jeez

A

August 31st, 2010
4:36 pm

Fine, dude with the weird handle. I do have plenty of hobbies and interests, and yes I do work too. Can’t a person vent once in a while about something that’s bugging them? Sheesh!

Sydney

September 1st, 2010
2:48 pm

I don’t mind a restaurant not being kid friendly but don’t say: “Children: Of Course” when they are obviously not catered to. My husband and I took our then 3 month old daughter — she was still in her car seat carrier at the time — they had 1 highchair in the ENTIRE restaurant and it was broken so we couldn’t use it. The service was SLOW — must have been the night where there was no kitchen staff. I just wasn’t impressed. I agree — visit Athens down the street for great Greek or go to Tanaka Japanese in the same shopping center. I wouldn’t say Tanaka is very kid friendly either because its too quiet but I knew that before I went!

Martha

September 2nd, 2010
12:46 pm

Our entire family LOVES Veranda, yes, the kids too! It is authentic, international, mediterranean food full of flavor that promises a full belly and some very happy taste buds. If you have traveled much, you’d know that America is one of the only countries offer a childrens menu. Veranda is extremely popular with the international Atlanta crowd because it is so authentic, yes…even if that means no childrens menu. I don’t think they ever plan on lowering their standards to offer chicken fingers or Mac and Cheese, it just isn’t that type of place. They carry authentic beverages and although they carry sweet tea and coke, if thats what your ordering, you may be missing the bigger picture that is Veranda. Another Greek/Mediterranean custom is to savor your food, drink and time with friends. So no, you will not see the wait staff sweating all over your food, handing you your check as you are served or trying to rush you in and out the door so they can make more tips. The idea is to welcome you, treat you as their guest and help you relax and savor, I think they do that very well. They request that you ask for your check when you are ready, they have no intention of handing it to you a minute before.

Veranda hosts private parties, receptions and caters, but, if you watch their facebook page, you can see they also host many fundraisers for non-profit organizations in Atlanta. I don’t see a lot of other privately owned restaurants doing that! With seating enough for a full wedding reception, a dance floor/DJ area, a gorgeous bar that can seat more than 25, an award winning outdoor patio and an extensive authentic delicious Greek menu, Veranda has everything for everyone…Except for those who want ketchup, chicken fingers and booster seats but I hear there is a McDonalds on the corner.

Martha

September 2nd, 2010
1:13 pm

BTW, I forgot to mention, they have THE BEST SANGRIAS on the face of the planet! I hope everyone makes a date night and gets to try one of those. The bar tender is very generous with all the drinks, but with this one, they knocked it out of the park!
:~)

Beth

September 2nd, 2010
4:39 pm

Even though I do not live in the area, I make the extra special effort to go to Veranda at least several times a month. Believe me, it is worth it!!! Every item I have ever ordered was fresh and and even satisfied my husband’s overly-picky taste buds. I have never ordered a single item from Veranda and not been pleased. Veranda’s wait staff and management have always made me feel welcome and I just adore the warm and cozy decor. I HIGHLY recommend Veranda to anyone who is looking for an outstanding dining experience.

Dani

September 4th, 2010
6:58 pm

My friend recently took me to Veranda for lunch. I’m very picky about eating at new restaurants, but I absolutely fell in love with this place. The atmosphere was amazing, the food was delicious, and the sangria is to die for!! The staff was great too, which in my opinion, can make or break the dining experience. I will definitely visit again and often!

Mac

September 7th, 2010
4:40 pm

I saw this review published last week: when it appeared again this weekend I felt compelled to comment. I am a long-time Roswell resident who thoroughly enjoys trying new restaurants that find their way into my community. My family, friends and I have said for many years that our city seemed to be lacking eateries that had a “pulse” —a true climate that combined quality food, fantastic service, and a great atmosphere. As a result, we have seen many establishments come and go. I first tried Veranda over a year ago due to its’ location. I met friends there because it is close in proximity to all of our homes. We enjoyed our evening so much Veranda has since become part of a weekly routine for us. We have sampled every dish on the menu between us and have had the opportunity to indulge on specials that don’t appear on the menu ~I won’t even get in to the delicious Sangria or the martinis. We love the generous portions and the consistency of the food – especially for the price. On the few occasions food was not cooked according to someone’s specifications there’s never been a problem reordering or with substituting another menu item altogether. The service and customer care is so outstanding one would be hard pressed to match these features. The critique mentions the fact that the kitchen is staffed with Hispanic employees and the wait staff is mostly Eastern European. I can’t think of too many restaurants currently that don’t hire multi-culturally. The standards of the wait staff and owner are the essentials regarding staffing that have kept me a regular patron. Service makes or breaks the dining experience.
My family has also eaten here and there is no problem ordering kid friendly items off the regular menu – one just has to take the time to read the menu (not to mention the staff is always helpful in coming up with suggestions and have even tweaked items a bit with my son’s input). The fact there is no official “kid’s menu” adds to the sophistication of this restaurant and it exposes my son to another side of dining.
I found it interesting that bloggers mention “Athens” Greek restaurant as an option to try instead of Veranda. I don’t even consider them in the same league! Besides the fact I found the restaurant to be very dirty, there is nothing to it: no bar, dance floor, live music, and no patio. They admittedly use mayonnaise and dill in plastic squeeze bottles for tzatsiki sauce because they claim, “that is what Americans like and they don’t know the difference.” After tasting Veranda’s sauces I, for one, know the difference!
As with anything, Veranda seems to have its supporters and its critics. I hope this article inspires true restaurateurs to try and judge for themselves – or maybe even do what I did and Google ‘Veranda’ to read all the reviews available (this one being the only one to give Veranda less than three stars to the best of my recollection). I am not a professional food critic: I am just someone who really enjoys good food. Veranda has the additional advantage of climate making it “the” kind of place Roswell / Alpharetta needs. Mr. Kessler has done Veranda a favor with his review – future clientele can’t help but be pleasantly surprised at all the positives he failed to mention.

Jewby

September 7th, 2010
4:54 pm

My husband and I love to take our children to Veranda. We don’t go just to feed them great food, but to feed them with a little variety, culture, and education at the same time. My children can get chicken fingers, burgers, plastic seats, and cheap toys anywhere, and my husband are in the mindset that if we are going to spend hard earned cash and limited time on our children, we are going to make it a good experience for all of us. I credit Veranda with not being your typical ‘quick-in and out’ place to eat, and keeping the culture to which the place was designed intact. I’m not sure what your children enjoy, but flaming dishes, dancers, and live music seem to keep my children occupied, and smiling. And at the same time, my husband and get to enjoy the amazing food and drinks at Veranda. Sure some restaruants choose to cater to children more, but I’m in the mindset that we should be making our children cater to nicer restaraunts. I like a restaruant that is true to itself, has its own culture, and doesn’t give in to ketchup packets, processed food, and coloring books. Here is my bottom line; Veranda isn’t a chain, it’s a restauraunt. It’s an experience as much as it is a place to eat. Hell, it isn’t even a place to eat, but rather a place to dine. Order off the menu, or don’t order off the menu – they’ll cater to you. Leave the kids at home, or offer them a new experience. Get dressed up, or kick back and relax in flip-flops. As though your on the coast of the med, everything goes at Veranda.

I heart Veranda

September 14th, 2010
10:50 am

Same owner since Day 1 folks. Veranda offers something for everyone. Call and see what is on the schedule so that you and your friends can attend during a time to suit you. Free concerts with dancing or a quiet afternoon on the patio. Tapas, the buffet or the dinner menu. Game day at the bar with the TV’s or snuggle on the couch with drinks. They have it all! DON’T CHANGE A THING VERANDA!