It's just after sunset Thursday night in Coconut Grove and Ergon Greek Deli + Cuisine (2982 Grand Ave., 305-442-9280) seems almost abandoned. A teenage cashier twiddles on a cell phone. Flies buzz under glass shielding a grapefruit-size bread loaf studded with olives and salty feta cubes ($3). One bite and the thing admits it was baked hours earlier. After a day of sitting in the humidity, it's a stiff, slightly stale mess.
The cashier said they were busy when they first opened in September. Lately they "get about a customer an hour," she added. This Coconut Grove location, along with one in Weston, is the Thessaloniki-based company's first foray into the U.S. "We felt now was the time to expand," co-founder Thomas Douzis told The Real Deal earlier this year. All of their outposts are markets and fast-casual spots fused into one. Black chalkboard painted walls offer bags of pastas and grains alongside cans of olives and olive oil. There's a bevy of jarred spreads for sale ranging from roasted eggplant to the unctuous, fish-egg infused taramasalata. An eggplant spread ($5) off the menu, however, seems to be a better bet. It arrives chilled and luscious, studded with walnut nibs. There could've been a bit more garlic and parsley to complement the nightshade's meaty flavor, but it stood up well even without them.
The place also boasts homemade pies filled with everything from cheese and spinach ($7) to olive, tomatoes, and peppers ($6). The appetizers, called "mezze," range from fava bean puree with octopus ($11) to zucchini balls with sun-dried tomatoes and mint ($7). The latter proved to be far better than the breads. Four fleshy fritters were well seasoned, fried to a nice crisp, and perched atop a creamy slick of yogurt. This kind of thing is the reason people are flocking to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant around town, and why more are opening.
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Pork gyros ($10) were also a step up from the shims of mystery meat that usually fill pitas. Fatty shoulders are spit roasted. Juicy slices are plated up alongside shreds of marbled meat that are crisped almost carnitas style. Yet it was a shame it all had to be packed into spongy, industrial pita that seemed plucked out of a Publix. The company should know better. After all, they remind you sandwiches come on Zak Stern's bread. Daily Bread Marketplace is even closer.
In Greece Ergon has outposts in Athens, Sani, Paros, and Rodos. One would think these are places where mass-produced pita would be scorned. Instead of all the sundries, there should be an oven front and center. These would be the perfect medium for the gyro and bevy of juicy souvlaki. Without them, this just seems like a Greek re-skin of Chipotle.
We called the restaurant's owners a half dozen times over the last week seeking comment, and left messages, but received no response. If they call back, we will add their comment.