Skorpios is cozy, unpretentious, and exceedingly cheerful. And there's not a drop of decent booze to be had in the place (my glass of house wine was atrocious — seeing I'd barely touched it, they sweetly offered to remove it from my bill). Skorpios II is full of Greeks eating the kind of food they remember from the old country, and those customers who aren't Greek begin to wish they were by the time they scrape up the last crumb of Skorpios' homemade butter cookies.
Dishes here are simply prepared and taste like something your grandmother would have fed you if you'd been lucky enough to have a Greek yaya: crunchy fried zucchini strips drizzled with pomegranate sauce ($5.95) and falafel rounds dipped in tahini that seem to melt on contact with your tongue; spicy, wine-braised Greek sausage flecked with orange rind (loukaniko, $14.95); and tiny and tender baby lamb chops ($17.95), lightly charred and perfectly grilled, that outshine the same dish at many upscale restaurants. Dinner entrées include a small, tart Greek salad loaded with crumbled feta and ripe olives, rice pilaf, a rather watery egg-lemon soup, and a vegetable (baked green beans the night we dined), so you won't walk away hungry. Also on the menu: Greek pizza, a pasta called pastichio made with chopped beef and béchamel (the Greek version of lasagna), moussaka, cheese pie, a variety of meze, and chicken or lamb shish kebabs. For dessert, homemade galactobureko ($3.75) is so good that it was lauded by Bon Appétit magazine: thin layers of filo layered with egg custard and suffused with honey. Included in the price of the entrée are a couple of crumbly, buttery Greek cookies (koudimbedes) dusted with confectioners' sugar. I don't know what the Greek term for "Yum!" is, but it should be the national exclamation. However you pronounce it, we South Floridians have finally earned the right to shout it from our rooftops.
Skorpios II is located in a strip mall on Lake Worth Road a short distance west of the intersection with Jog Road. Outside are tables with blue and white umbrellas. Inside, the blue and white theme continues broken only by the occasional Grecian country side mural. Blue skirt lighting near the ceiling adds ambience to the rooms.
The staff greet you like you are one of the family and anticipate your needs before you even know what they are. One such need is putting the salad dressing on the side so you can choose how much you want on your greens. Another is to use margarine instead of butter along with the traditional olive oil all good Greek food has at its heart.
The Goussis family starts cooking early in the morning, using the best ingredients (even if it costs extra for them) to give their guests the most flavorful experience they can have. Their attention to detail extends to the gyro meat which is flown in from Brooklyn, New York, the Greek food capital of the United States.
At Skorpios II, the flavors jump off the plate and into your mouth. Try Nick's Special ($19.95), a platter with spinach pie, Moussaka, Pastitsio, stuffed grape leaves, rice pilaf and vegetables. It comes with pita bread & tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt dip with garlic, cucumbers and dill), salad, a choice of soup, and two desserts—Kourabiethes (almond cookies) and rice pudding.
The fax machine brings some interesting menus. But the one from Skorpios II caught my eye. Was this the Greek side of a diner menu that includes patty melts and grilled cheese? Was the restaurant in need of a boost in business?
We arrive on a Sunday evening to find Skorpios II packed. With just 30 seats and three tables outside, we manage to snag a table before others start lining up. Greek music plays on the sound system. There are posters and photos on the walls. There appears to be just one waitress and one bus boy working the room.
The original Skorpios is still going strong 30 years later on Long Island; the Lake Worth restaurant has been around for five years.
This isn't a fancy place. Since it's stripped of the kind of pretense you see in many restaurants these days, all we can do is focus on the food. And once it starts coming, that's just what we do.
Along with the regular menu is a list of daily dinner specials, all-inclusive meals with soup, salad, entree and dessert. The $13.95 lamb chop dinner comes with nutmeg-scented rice, mixed vegetables and tender marinated chops.
The meals come with both soup and salad. But these aren't afterthoughts. The lentils in the lentil soup have not turned to mush. The broth is sturdy. Lemon and egg soup is likewise not thickened by too many hours on the flame.
And these are the kind of Greek salads that a non-salad-eater will love. Forget low fat, these come with just the right amount of feta cheese, a handful of black olives, fresh tomatoes and dressing that hits the oily-to-acid ratio just right. I see one woman order a Greek salad with gyros on top. What a great idea.
The only disappointing dish is the cold platter ($7.95): stuffed grape leaves, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, pita, hummus and eggplant dip. Perhaps I want a garlicky Middle Eastern platter. This one is bland.
Much better is saganaki ($7.95). This old Greek restaurant standby where kasseri cheese is fried and then flamed gets an upgrade at Skorpios II. The cheese covers a layer of fresh tomatoes. You can almost trick yourself into believing that it's healthy.
There are lots of good appetizers. Spinach pie ($3.50) is a generous slice of green with just the right amount of feta folded between golden layers of phyllo. Cheese pie ($3) is similar, strong-tasting cheese and phyllo.
As for entrees, I have a standard by which I judge Greek restaurants: moussaka.
Here, the moussaka ($12.95, complete dinner) approaches perfection. It features layers of eggplant, potatoes and chopped meat with a bechamel sauce over top. Too often, it's the kind of dish that gets made in the morning and sits in the oven all day. By that point, the eggplant has lost all of its texture, and the potatoes are mushy. But at Skorpios II, each layer keeps its dignity. We're presented with different tastes and textures within one dish. For dessert, gobble down the rice pudding that comes with every dinner.