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Feb 19, 2008 09:15 AM

Review: My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, Scottsdale AZ

Something I recently noticed is that absolutely *nobody* on the Chowhound message board makes much mention of the local chain My Big Fat Greek Restaurant. Maybe it's the cheesy name, maybe it's that they have enough locations around town to look like they've already gone national, maybe it's that they use sigmas in their signage so that the name actually reads "My Big Fat Grssk Restaurant". Who knows. All I knew was that I was getting hungry, and a couple of friends had just invited me along for a trip to their Scottsdale location. Who was I to refuse good company?

The decor of the restaurant is generic, with standard-issue laminate topped tables, silverware rolled in Aegean blue napkins (have I mentioned how much I despise rolled silver? I'm coming to your restaurant to have you do the work, SET THE TABLE!) and a mural of a Greek village along one wall. Don't look at the mural too long, you'll realize the artist had no idea how to do perspective drawing. Or maybe they wanted to get the picture from lots of different viewpoints at once. But I digress, this is about the food, not the art on the walls. Perusing the menu, I noticed they had a decent number of classic Greek dishes such as spanakopita, moussaka, bacon cheeseburgers, BBQ chicken pizza, and fish & chips. I'm used to seeing one or two out-of-left-field American items at ethnic restaurants to appease the poor fool who doesn't like eating interesting food but got dragged along anyway, but when well over a dozen items on the menu are American, it's time to start thinking about changing the name of the restaurant. I also noticed a number of typos peppered about the menu, including a drink "fit for the GOD'S" (their capital lettering, not mine) and an "Agaen" wrap that I'm pretty sure was supposed to be Aegean, but instead was a clear lack of attention to detail all over Agaen.

We got things started off with a bunch of appetizers. The first to arrive were dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and fried calamari. The calamari was one of the better ones I've had. The meat was for once succulent and tender, and the breading was light enough that it didn't overshadow the calamari. The dolmades left something to be desired. Four tiny dolmades came on the plate (they were the size of nigiri sushi, to give you a frame of reference) and were quickly devoured, mostly because there wasn't all that much on the plate. These were... bland. You could tell there was seasoning in there, but apparently downtown Scottsdalians are either frightened by proper levels of seasoning, or haven't realized yet that eating garlic on a date is taboo only if done by one person. A moment later, the waiter arrives with our saganaki (kefalograviera cheese flamed tableside). An "Opa!" from the staff and a quite impressive fireball later, we dug in. This is one of those dishes that no matter what you do to it, it's exactly what you expect. It's cheese, they set it on fire, what more could you ask?

We were almost done with the appetizers when out from the kitchen come our Greek salads. We move our appetizer plates over to the side, and see in front of us a plate of Romaine lettuce topped with chopped tomato, feta, and green bell peppers. The lettuce was glistening from the dressing, but the dressing just didn't taste like anything. I searched the dish high and low for some kind of flavor at all, and all I got was a little sweet from the tomatoes and bite of the peppers. The feta and dressing just sort of snuck around hoping that they wouldn't get noticed.

After a short wait which would have been unnoticeable had the waitstaff not rushed our salads out of the kitchen, our main courses arrived. It would have been nice if the staff had thought to clear the salad and appetizer plates out of the way *before* they brought the mains. My choice tonight was the Aegean Spaghetti, pasta with olive oil, garlic and a blend of mizithra, feta, and parmesan cheeses. As far as pasta dishes go, this one was a disappointment. The spaghetti was overcooked, the feta melted into a congealed blob at the bottom of the dish, and again everything was just bland, bland, bland. There should have been the nuttiness of the mizithra, the sharp tang of the feta, but instead it might as well have been just noodles in olive oil. Everyone seemed halfway pleased with their dishes, but there certainly wasn't any rampant enthusiasm for any of the dishes on the table.

The dinner for four came out to about $96. For what we got, it seemed like it was right where it should be. However, there are much better choices for Greek food in town, namely just about any mom-n-pop joint you can think of. My Big Fat Grssk, er, I mean, Greek Restaurant just glides along in its mediocrity, refusing to pay attention to the small details that would make it great, almost proud to be as dull and mainstream as any other chain restaurant out there.

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  1. Great review JK, as usual. I have not yet tried this place but actually find myself eating the lemon/herb roasted chicken quite often from another "Greek" (or Grssk!) chain called Daphne's. It's pretty good but FAR from authentic and, as you said, most mom and pop places do a lot better.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Well done.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ejs1492

      I've been to Daphne's, it's certainly a step above Big Fat.

      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        When I was living in SoCal over the summer, I went to Daphne's once since there was one right near my house, and I had been craving hummus. I have never in my life experienced such lifeless was like they took chickpeas, mashed them, and forgot to do anything else with them. It wasn't actively bad, because that would have required some form of spice to be present. I haven't visited the ones in AZ yet, only because I'm convinced I would just be wasting my money.

        As far as MBFGR, I visted the one in old town a few months ago, and it was very bland. I had a chicken pita (can't recall what it was exactly), and it was just begging to be spiced in some way...again, it wasn't BAD, but it just wasn't good either. It was open late though, as I recall, which was it's one redeeming point.

        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

          Try the roasted chicken at Daphne's. It's remarkably good and a steal considering that it includes rice and salad. It's the only thing on the menu there that I like; I'm indifferent about everything else. It's amazing how many "good" restaurants can screw up a roast chicken and someplace like this gets it right.

      2. thanks jk, for reaffirming my aversion to this mini-chain.

        file under: LCDE (lowest common denominator ethic)

        1. I've found this restaurant to be mediocre, as well. The food is "eh, okay". There are dozens of other great Greek restaurants, but if you're with a non-adventurous crowd, it's an okay choice. The last time we went to the one on Tatum & Shea, we sat in a nearly empty restaurant (one table plus ours) for about 15 minutes and still hadn't been greeted by a server, hadn't received menus, water, or silverware. So we walked out, and the manager and one wait person just watched us leave. We haven't been back yet

          1. When MBFGR first opened, it was actually quite good because they were one or two stores and the quality was high. But ever since the expansion across the Valley, the level of mediocrity is almost unsurpassed.

            As you said, JK, just about any mom and pop Greek restaurant runs circles around this place.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Seth Chadwick

              I agree that when they first opened in Tempe, the quality was much better and it seemed like a more "authentic" Greek restaurant. My family is Greek so we had a great time the first couple times we went and my grandma was able to speak Greek with the waiter. Since the expansion, it has lost a lot in translation which is unfortunate.

              1. re: sunshineinaz

                I agree. We're a Greek family too and we went to the tempe location a few times when it first opened and thought it was pretty good - particularly the lamb chops. With expansion the quality has gone decidedly downhill and we never visit anymore. We rarely eat Greek food out but did think initially this was a pretty good option. Not so much anymore.

                Not at all a fan of Daphne's either.

                Greektown is good but we don't get there often...I'm not driving across town for something I make really well at home!

            2. The only two Greek restaurants I have been to in Phoenix are Greektown and Greekfest. What are some of the smaller places you folks would recommend?

              12 Replies
              1. re: AzDumpling

                Way out west we have Dino's Greek & Italian Grill. I really like the space and I've had a couple of jaw-dropping lamb dishes there. All the dips are great, as well as the calamari. It's in our regular rotation; if I'm in the mood for comfort food or nostalgic for our time in the Mediterranean, I'm there. Place links must be broken, but you can search on it.

                I also like Daphne's. The avgolemno soup is fab for a quick-service joint.

                I had to check MBFGR's website for the logo, which isn't done in sigmas there, but wouldn't it be My Big Fat Grssk Rsstaurant, not Restaurant? That's an even bigger crime, if they aren't consistent with their error.

                1. re: themis

                  Thanks for the ideas. Just an FYI, it must drive you crazy that Dino's spells Spanakopita two different ways on their menu.

                  1. re: AzDumpling

                    It's just like being in Greece! For serious, hardly anything is spelled the same way twice there. I think they try to spell English phonetically, and since our alphabets don't match up, even common words get a little lost in translation.

                2. re: AzDumpling

                  Have you had the calamari @ Greekfest? Next to the now-defunct Sushi Mishima, they do my favorite version of calamari I have had in town, although it has been a while since I've been back; they are quite expensive and the portions are small, and mostly-Greek wine list doesn't do it for me.

                  1. re: azhotdish

                    It has been a few years since I ate there and I was not terribly impressed with portion sizes either. I crave Greek on occasion though as my wife had a Greek aunt who used to cook for us every Christmas. Any other places that are privately owned that are good?

                    1. re: AzDumpling

                      I have heard good things about Bacchanal, although I have never been.

                      Bacchanal Greek Restaurant
                      3015 E Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                      1. re: azhotdish

                        Bacchanal is fun, the belly dancing and plate throwing on weekends is a blast. and the moussaka is pretty good too.

                        Our regular greek place is Olympic Flame right down the street on
                        40th and Thomas. Good gyro special for lunch and the tzakziki is nice and savory. Worth a try.

                        1. re: kmarg

                          Thanks, I usually hit Elie's Deli very nearby, and have not tried Olympic Flame although it has been there for as long as I can remember. Elie's doesn't know how to make hummus - is their's any good?

                          1. re: azhotdish

                            I'm not a big hummus guy, but my GF is fanatic about the stuff and says Flame's is pretty good. She also gets a Chicken and Kasseri dish with grilled eggplant that is very good.

                          2. re: kmarg

                            I haven't been there in a while, but the Golden Greek on 35th Ave (just north of Glendale) is an old favorite.

                    2. re: AzDumpling

                      I lived in Greece for 3 years so I am extremely picky about my Greek Food. Bar none, the absolute best I have found is a little family owned taverna in Litchfield Park/Goodyear AZ area. The food is absolutely wonderful and as authentic as you are going to get stateside. Try their lambchops(succulent), gyros, souvlaki....everything is wonderful. Keep in mind though, that their Italian is not the americanized version that most are accustomed to.

                      Wherever you reside, this is definitely worth the trip. Check out their website.

                      Remember, when it comes to food, I'll never steer you wrong!!