Lauren Lynch and her husband Tom Bovis are not serving your mother’s moussaka. When you are a chef, you can’t help but layer more flavors on such homespun favorites.
A taste of home is a beautiful thing. Familiar flavors create a lot of comfort, no matter where the home was.
Lauren Lynch is not Greek by birth, but by marriage. Her summer visits to the Greek isles inspired her to bring the flavors of her adopted home back to Rhode Island. She and her husband Tom Bovis already had Rosalina, an Italian restaurant in Providence that pays homage to Lynch’s heritage. She was ready to add Kleos (pronounced Clay-os), with a menu dedicated to her husband’s homeland.
But she’s not serving your mother’s moussaka. When you are a chef, you can’t help but layer more flavors on such a homespun favorite. Plus, she has had the advantage of having authentic Greek versions, many in the out-of-the-way destinations they visit each summer.
As a result, Kleos offers elegant dishes designed to make new Greek food fans.
Start with the dips. Oh, the dips. Talking to Lynch after my visit, I learned that she sources ingredients that add zip to those dips. Everyone loves Greek yogurts, but do you know that there are even better ones in Greece? That’s what Lynch told me, and she’s using them to create some of the dips, starting with the tzatziki, the traditional Greek sauce. Lynch grates cucumbers and garlic and mixes it with the best Greek yogurt (think sheeps’ milk) for the richest, creamiest texture.
Also in some of Lynch’s dips, including the eggplant, or melitzanosalata, is olive oil from the family farm in Greece. Her in-laws have passed away but a cousin and his son are caring for the land and olives trees and bottling the olive oil. They sell bottles of it at Rosalina as well.
But back to the dipping plate, which comes with pita bread and slices of cucumber, and where spicy feta or tirokafteri is a star. It’s whipped cheese with a little cayenne, and it’s addictive. But you also can’t go wrong with the beet spread, pantzarosalata, made with roasted beets puréed with tahini and topped with crushed pistachios.
Most familiar is the Santorini fava, or Greek hummus.
“It is not actually made with fava beans, but rather yellow split peas which are cooked with onion and garlic until soft and puréed with olive oil and lemon juice. We top that off with capers, lemon zest and finely diced red onion,” said Lynch.
I liked pairing the dipping plate with the tzatziki tower, which stars crispy thin fried eggplant and zucchini chips with the fab cucumber sauce. I dare say I favor those chips over potatoes any time.
I loved the creaminess of the moussaka, a traditional Greek dish made with eggplant and potatoes layered with meat sauce and cheese and baked in a lovely cast-iron dish. Lynch said she flavors her moussaka more intensely than her mother-in-law would have. She builds up flavor in the meat like she’s making a Bolognese sauce. She also bakes the eggplant slices rather than frying them to keep the dish from becoming too heavy. But what makes it so yummy is the creamy bechamel sauce on top. It’s simply rich.
At first I wasn’t sure about the Mixed Grill, a platter of meat for sharing. Some of the meat seemed dry, but that is what tzatziki is for. Ultimately, I loved the variety on the tray and the presentation. That dish is most what dining in Greece is about, the sharing of large plates that have something for everyone.
My favorite was the lamb chops, which are roasted with lemon and olive oil. Kleos preserves its own lemons. A close second was the spicy loukaniko Greek sausage. There are also beautifully spiced Greek meatballs, as well as chicken souvlaki and beef and lamb gyro meat. The platter also comes with a generous helping of French fries.
For a seafood dish, we tried the Greek-style paella ($22), with prawns, mussels and littlenecks. Instead of the fish being on a bed of rice, Lynch makes saffron-scented orzo. The prawns are an acquired taste, but the paella is a beautiful seafood plate that can also be shared.
What’s better than baklava for dessert? Chocolate baklava. It’s perfect, not too sweet and enhanced by the chocolate.
Libby Slader was the designer for the space, which has a lovely rustic farmhouse vibe with touches that include sliding barn doors. There’s lots of sleek design as well, including windows that open out into the street for inside-out dining in season.
Since opening last summer with only dinner hours, Kleos has added a quick lunch service. Order and take your lunch to go. The menu includes a choice of five gyro sandwiches, each for $8.95, treats like spanakopita, the dipping plate, and salads.
If you want to play it safe, you can also do so at Kleos. You can have appetizers of Matunuck oysters and R.I.-style calamari and dinners of Greek spaghetti and meatballs. You can’t go wrong either way.
On Twitter @gailciampa
Kleos, 250 Westminster St., Providence, (401) 443-4083, on Facebook, no website. Reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Street parking. Full bar. Open seven days for dinner at 4 p.m. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for takeout.
Bill of Fare
A dinner for two at Kleos might look like this:
Dip Tasting $14
Tzatziki Tower $12
Mixed Grill $38
Chocolate Baklava $6
Two Greek sodas $6
Total bill $125.84