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Papouli’s Mediterranean Cafe and Market, Alpharetta

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Greek restaurants in metro Atlanta tend to come in two varieties: Either it’s the kind of place where the wait staff boisterously interact with patrons and rush flaming platters of saganaki (cheese flambe appetizer) to tables or it’s a diner that offers a hybrid of American, Italian and Greek food. In between are the occasional cozy walk-ins and street food-style vendors pushing souvlaki (meat skewers) and greasy gyros wraps.

Review by Gene Lee

Review by Gene Lee

Papouli’s Mediterranean Cafe and Market in Alpharetta has the menu and atmosphere of a Greek diner, but it operates like a walk-in. Its first location was opened in Macon in 1986 by Chicago transplants of Greek heritage. The restaurant certainly shows its American influence; overall there does not seem to be a whole lot that translates well.

It’s unfortunate because Papouli’s smells wonderful when you walk through the doors. An attractively staged market sits at the entrance, stocked with imported Mediterranean foodstuffs. Thereafter it seems a quick, no-frills setting with ambitions of franchising are the intent. Orders are taken at the counter, sodas and silverware are self-serve and food arrives on disposable ware.

Chicken and beef/lamb shavings for the restaurant’s gyro plates ($8.35 regular, $10.35 large) are dry and cold, and stuffed into equally cold discs of pita. The avgolemono soup (chicken, lemon and rice, $3.49) is satisfactory but similar to the watery, generic version that comes out of a can. My preferred style of avgolemono is more velvety in texture and heartier in flavor. Gumball-size falafels ($1.99 for six, $3.50 for 12) are served cold and are the sourest versions of chickpea patties I have ever had. An order of baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant dip, $3.50) is a tad better, but also more sour than I prefer.

papouli

Souvlaki (photo by Becky Stein)

Orders of pastitsio (Greek-style lasagna made with macaroni and beef and topped with a creamy béchamel sauce, $8.99) and moussaka (like the pastitsio, but substitute potato and eggplant for the macaroni, $8.99) are bland and overcooked. The only discernible flavor in either is the nutmeg sprinkled on top.

So do I like anything at Papouli’s? Yes, I do. The lamb souvlaki plate ($11.99) — skewers of lamb and vegetables resting on a fluffy bed of rice pilaf — is tender, simply seasoned with salt and has a smoky char-grilled flavor that appeals to my inner carnivore. The crisp Apollo brand feta topping my side of Greek salad is some of the best I’ve tasted in a while.

Overall, if aspirations are indeed to serve diners from more venues all over America, I hope Papouli’s puts a bit more thought and effort into the execution — starting with the Alpharetta spot. Until then, I’m not sure I will be rushing to a new location just yet.

Papouli’s Mediterranean Cafe and Market
3070 Windward Plaza, Suite C, Alpharetta , 770-442-8884
FAIRstars5
Food: Casual Greek and Greek-American fare such as gyro sandwiches, kebabs and moussaka
Service: Satisfactory, but mostly self-serve.
Best dishes: Lamb souvlaki, avgolemono (chicken and rice soup), baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant dip)
Vegetarian selections: A variety of Mediterranean-influenced vegetable appetizers, soup, salads and entrees
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Sundays
Children: yes
Parking: in lot
Reservations: no
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: no
Takeout: yes
RatingsKey_3

16 comments Add your comment

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Jim

January 7th, 2011
10:40 am

I’ve had some decent gyros and hummus at this spot. Overall though, I agree with you Gene. Try Baba’s Gyro’s on Ronald Reagan in Cumming. It is much better.

Kirk

January 7th, 2011
11:22 am

Babas is it for any kind of Mediterranean food, especially the Persian dishes.

A

January 7th, 2011
11:34 am

Honestly I’m surprised this place has survived as long as it has, given the track record of many businesses in this same shopping center. I got takeout from there once and was not impressed and have not been back.

K

January 7th, 2011
11:37 am

Messina’s is also quite good, I would say it’s primarily Greek although there’s a bit of Italian and other Mediterranean fare.

For a more Arabic type Mediterranean we tend to go to the Athens Grill place on Hwy 78 in Loganville.

We didn’t have any luck with chains. That place on Hwy 29, Grecian Gyro I think was the name. So so at best.

Melanie

January 7th, 2011
7:23 pm

I personally love the gyro’s at Papouli’s, I always get the Beef and Lamb with the feta. It does have a fast food type atmosphere. If you are looking for more authentic fare, go to Baba’s in Cumming on Ronald Reagan. Don’t let the location deter you. He has the best kabobs I have ever tasted, especially the Kubedeh (sp), but be prepared to pay for good food.

AART

January 7th, 2011
7:31 pm

Kez, the best thing there is the Italian beef.

Lee at rootsinalpharetta.com

January 7th, 2011
7:37 pm

“A” is right. This strip mall only gets business from cubicle dwellers at lunch. It has meant the death of a lot of decent joints who’ve braved operating here. It’s cursed, especially the back side of the mall.

But I agree with this review. Alpharetta doesn’t have a lot of Med food. Of what we have, Papouli’s is an also-ran.

john

January 8th, 2011
10:27 am

I agree with Melanie and Aart, the Gyros and Italian Beef are awesome at Papouli’s. I am not sure what happened when Gene went but I have yet to have a bad experience there. They always toast the pitas on the grill and serve them warm with the hummus which is the best in Atlanta as far as I am concerned.

JimmyD

January 9th, 2011
7:47 pm

Okay, if you want suprisingly good Greek food, I’m going to tell you where to go. Head up to Forsyth County, Get off on exit 14a (go east on 20. Take the first right on to Ronald Reagan Blvd. Pass the light at Pendley Road, and look for the Shell station on the right. Right next to the Shell you’ll find a little strip restaurant that has some of the most amazing Greek food you’ve had in a long time!
Nope, I don’t work there, I just eat there…

A

January 10th, 2011
11:34 am

@Lee–I like your blog, particularly your Alpharetta/Milton restaurant reviews. We do have Cafe Efendi in downtown Alpharetta, which is really great.

art

January 10th, 2011
5:41 pm

The best Greek in town is in Hapeville… Once a Week Go Greek… Better than anything you’ll find in Santorini or Mykonos… Say hi to Nick!

MarieLetsEat

January 11th, 2011
9:53 am

When I was one of those Alpharetta cubicle dwellers of which Lee spoke, I would eat at Papouli’s for lunch a couple of times a month. I did like their gyro best of all, but I never felt very comfortable or really welcome there. The staff seemed to be in a constant state of turnover. Every one of those strip shopping centers on Windward seems to attract a restaurant for a period of 8-20 months, with the national chains holding on a little longer. I think the attrition is even worse on the other side of 400. I left my job there in August 2009 and doubt I’d recognize the shopping centers on that side of the highway any longer.

Hart

January 11th, 2011
10:55 pm

The Macon, Georgia location SUCKS!!!! The “employees” are pathetic. I had a problem there and asked to speak to the manager or owner. The “employees” went out of their way (not telling me when he was there) to NOT let me speak to the manager or owner. I finally found the email address online for the Alpharetta store. I see why the Macon store has problems. It comes from the top! The lousy “employees” only do what is expected of them and that’s not much by the quality of the service and food.

Super Frankie

January 12th, 2011
1:51 pm

Sounds like this place is run by that muppet Sotirios Kyrgiakos