You can't beat the charm and old-world ambience at Samos in Greektown, which opened in 1977 when Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer was shaping the city. Then and now, diners have never minded waiting in line at the cash-only restaurant, knowing a bounty of traditional Greek dishes will leave them sated and happy.
But times have changed, and Michael Georgalas, the son of Samos' owner, Nicholas Georgalas, realized the restaurant was missing a new breed of clientele who want good food, served quickly, in a casual setting. His vision, Samos Greek Island Grill, became a reality in 2013 as part of The Shops at Canton Crossing.
"I wanted to tap into a different customer base than at the original location," Michael Georgalas said. "It was also to get the name out there."
The setting and service contrast the old and new, but the food is terrific as always. Fans of the original Samos will still find great Greek salads dressed in the restaurant's signature house dressing, and a variety of pita wraps and succulent souvlaki skewers, among other dishes made with the freshest ingredients.
The concept has caught on. Look for another Samos' fast-casual restaurant in McHenry Row in Locust Point this spring.
Scene & Decor The corner storefront with floor-to-ceiling windows is bright and cheerful with a pale green and yellow color scheme. Pastel boat paintings are reminders of the restaurant's namesake Greek island. The restaurant has a counter in the rear, where diners order their food. Wire lighting fixtures and white chairs add a modern touch.
Appetizers You'll find all the traditional starters here — from hummus to olive tapenade served with airy grilled pita wedges. We nibbled on an enticing spanakopita with spinach and feta encased in the flaky embrace of delicate phyllo ($6.50). This generous portion of savory pie could be a meal with a side salad. The veggie dolmades ($7.50), chunky with rice, were wrapped tightly in grape leaves like mini papooses. The bundles were delicious with a thin covering of citrusy avgolemono sauce and a luscious, dill-laced tzatziki dip.
Entrees Don't miss the souvlaki platters ($12.50 to $14.75) with choices like grilled chicken, pork, steak, lamb or shrimp. The fillings can be served on skewers or nestled into warm pita bread. Each comes with an excellent side of Greek salad, the wonderful tzatziki sauce and grilled pita wedges. Our pita-wrapped grilled chicken ($12.50) was hearty and delicious with hunks of chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. The gyro platter ($12.75) featured wide, tender ribbons of lamb with a side dish. We opted for the grilled vegetables, fine specimens of oregano-flecked zucchini, green peppers, carrots and onions. The platters were excellent, but the dish that still stands out in our taste buds was the vegetarian moussaka ($15.25). This gift from the Greeks means to please with thin slices of eggplant and potato, layered with ricotta cheese and marinara sauce and finished with a fluffy bechamel topping.
Drinks Self-serve fountain drinks and water.
Service Customers order at the counter and food is delivered to tables.
Dessert Forget any notions of gloppy, old-fashioned rice pudding. Samos' version ($3.75) is sensuously creamy. Definitely get a sprinkle of cinnamon. The honey-topped baklava ($4) is another treat.