Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bill's Greek Tavern - Jackson

There is no doubt that the Greek community plays a large role in Jackson cuisine. Even if you forget comeback dressing, the sheer number of Greek owned & operated restaurants is staggering. Nick’s, The Lamar, The Elite, The Mayflower, all Jackson institutions and all of them are Greek in one way or another. However, if the conversation ever does steer toward Greek cuisine in Jackson, Bill’s Greek Tavern will almost certainly be mentioned. Opened in 1972 by Bill, his eponymous restaurant has helped satisfy this town’s need for fresh seafood with a touch of Greek flavor.

Even though there are a fair number of “hoopahs”, pictures of Greece, and Greek flags around Bill’s, this is not a traditional Greek restaurant. For one, there are few people more patriotic than Bill. Nearly every phone call contains a "God Bless America", not to mention the prominent American flag on the far wall. Of course, like many ethnic foods in the South, the flavors of Greece have been modified, the menu simplified, and a number of the more exotic meats are conspicuously absent. Keeping that in mind, when you walk into Bill’s, pay special attention to the small white dry erase board to the right of the counter. There, the daily specials and the catch of the day are listed. Beyond that, there is a decently sized menu but the offerings at Bill’s Greek Tavern can be broken into several basic categories: entrees, salads, and desserts. With no idea where to start, I decided to delve into Bill’s menu to see just what kept people coming back for nearly 40 years.

Every entrĂ©e at Bill’s comes with a small salad.
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This is really just an excuse to load up on comeback dressing.
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Bill’s comeback dressing is a little different from other Jackson examples. In addition to the smooth, creamy texture, the bold punch of black pepper really accentuates the dressing.
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It’s hard to resist the simple pleasure of comeback and crackers.

You'll quickly find that fresh fish is king at Bill’s Greek Tavern. I learned that lesson when snapper was the catch of the day, and I was face to face with a platter of Bill’s take on fish and shrimp.
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There was a little bit of everything on this plate, fish, shrimp, vegetables, potatoes, pita bread.
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Shrimp are lightly breaded, graced with a little Greek seasoning, and finished on the griddle. The result is a shrimp with a briny sweetness that needed just a touch of lemon.
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The snapper was cooked the same way as the fish, if a bit overdone. With more surface area, there was more room for that golden brown crust and those subtle flavors. Bill claims that he only uses salt, pepper, and olive oil, but I think there are a few more seasonings at work.

With most Greek restaurants, a gyro plate is usually a safe bet. Sliced from a roasted, rotating spit of lamb, a gyro can be a symphony of salty crust, moist meat, and a topping of ever cool cucumber in the form of tzatiki.
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That is not what you receive at Bill’s.
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Colored an unappetizing grey, these slices of gyro meat may be salty but that is it. These slices of lamb loaf were a cacophony of poor textures, subpar seasoning, and a general waste of lamb.
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The side of tzatiki had the necessary texture but there was no real cucumber flavor. Oddly enough, when combined with the gyro meat and a slice of pita, it dominated everything. I will admit that combining gyro meat, tzatiki, and comeback is an interesting idea, but it ends up being far too salty.

As disappointing as the gyro plate might have been, it paled in comparison to the crab cakes.
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At first, these crab cakes look pretty fair. There’s a nice golden color and a good crust. Sure they’re a little too perfectly round but maybe they used a ring to shape them.
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I don’t know what bargain bin basement Bill’s found these in, but these crab cakes were horrifying.
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Beneath the crispy, fried exterior was a mealy filling of some vague meat. More akin to cat food than any crab I’ve ever seen, these crab cakes are to be avoided at all costs.

While it may appear that I’m writing off Bill’s Greek Tavern all together, there is a ray of hope. After suffering the misery of his lesser offerings, I made one last visit to Bill’s and found a return to refreshing simplicity.
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A plate of scallops and shrimp, it’s basic but fresh seafood really is what Bill does best.
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The shrimp still come with the sublime combination of crunchy, seasoned crust and juicy interiors.
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Scallops, lightly seared and lightly seasoned, are just cooked through. Sprinkled with a few herbs, the sweetness of the scallops is the star of this show.
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They may be on the small side, but the scallops are worth the effort.

You can hardly talk about Greek cuisine without mentioning the world famous dessert, baklava. Little more than phyllo, nuts, and honey, this treat may be simple but it is always worth saving a little room.
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I’ve never really seen a baklava constructed like this. Instead of a few layers of phyllo, a few nuts, phyllo and more nuts, this was more like sandwich with nuts for a filling and phyllo for bread. Construction issues aside, when it comes to taste, Bill’s baklava is a fine choice.
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Topped with a few cloves, the combination of crunchy phyllo dough, honey and ground nuts is a fine way to end a meal.

After eating through the menu, one thing is painfully obvious: fresh seafood rules this kingdom. Although you may be tempted by the sultry combination of gyro meat and tzatiki or the crab cakes, it’s best to keep away. Don’t let that warning scare you, Bill’s Greek Tavern is a Jackson landmark and for good reason. The man knows his way around a piece of fish. Just remember that Bill’s Greek Tavern is Greek cuisine tailored for a Jackson audience. There’s nothing particularly daring about the menu, but earnest simplicity is part of its charm. So stick to the basics, soak up Bill’s Greek accented patriotism, and enjoy a seafood meal at Bill's Greek Tavern.

Bill’s Greek Tavern Address & Information
Bill's Greek Tavern on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Cristie said...

I've always wanted to try Bill's, but I always forget it's there. Thanks for the great review.