Famished from a busy summer morning of strawberry picking at Green Bluff, I decided to stop for lunch at Opa Pizza, Greek and Italian restaurant. I’d heard good things about this north Spokane restaurant during the last four years, and this was the perfect excuse to give it a try.
Located in a mini-mall just off the Newport Highway, the interior of the restaurant is awash in bright white and Mediterranean blue, with photos of the Greek Islands on the walls. Greek and Italian music plays in the background and by the end of the meal, I found myself toe-tapping along with the music.
There’s also a covered patio for outside dining.
“Opa means ‘cheers to life’ in Greek,” explains Justin La Torre, who owns the restaurant with his mother, Janet Buyher. “Food is the centerpiece in Mediterranean culture and we wanted to make sure all of the Greeks and Italians in Spokane have a place to go to have authentic food.”
Families of all ages fill the restaurant, and Opa makes children feel welcome, with coloring pages of Greek gods and child-sized meals like pita pizzas. “That’s where the connections are made – around the table,” says La Torre.
Opa’s menu is a combination of popular Mediterranean dishes, rich in olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce and herbs. The choices are lengthy but not overwhelming. The Greek Meze Combo ($13.95) is billed as a “welcome to Greece” dish and is a great way to sample several of Opa’s most popular items and can be shared as an appetizer or ordered as a meal. Highlights include dolmades, briny grape leaves stuffed with rice and raisins, and the gyro - thinly sliced lamb seasoned with oregano.
The thick-crust pizza is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, with numerous creative toppings to choose from. Even the simple mozzarella had plenty of flavorful sauce and a light layer of sautéed garlic on top. The pizza takes a little time, so consider starting with a salad or just relax and enjoy the complimentary warm pita and tzatziki – a thick, yogurt dip with garlic and cucumbers. (The tzatziki was so good we finished it with a fork after the pita was gone.)
On our second visit we started off with the Flaming Saganaki ($8.95). It’s hard to resist ordering food that is on fire when you have two young boys at the table. We weren’t the only fans of the gooey, melted kasseri cheese topped with lemon and white wine. Every time it’s ordered, the kitchen staff bangs the pots and cheers “Opa! Saganaki!” as the flaming dish leaves the kitchen.
Full dinners range from classic Italian lasagna, ravioli and cannelloni to Greek eggplant Mousaka, baked scallops and Souvlaki – tender skewers of lamb and chicken marinated in lemon juice, white wine and garlic ($15.95).
For lighter appetites, there are several salads, Panini and baked sandwiches. The Mediterranean Panini ($7.95), Focaccia bread grilled with peppers, artichoke hearts and melted cheese, was crispy and flavorful. Paired with a cup of creamy, lemony Avgolemono soup, it was just the right amount for an evening meal.
Wine is available by the glass or bottle, and includes a handful of Greek and Italian wines. There are over a dozen beers to choose from, ranging from microbrews to imports. The refreshingly light Peroni (Italian) lager served in an iced beer goblet is the perfect pizza beer and pairs well with most dishes.
For dessert, Opa offers cheesecake, ice cream and baklava but the tiramisu is not to be missed. This traditional Italian dessert is made by Opa’s catering partner Lena Brunetto, who makes it the way it should be made, with spongy ladyfingers soaked in espresso and liqueur, layered with creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with chocolate shavings.
“We feel it’s important to use authentic ingredients,” says La Torre, who is in the process of adding an organic vegetable garden to the restaurant. He’s investigating local sources for cheese and lamb, and working on a new lunch menu to feature quick, healthy items as an alternative to fast food. “Our goal is to be as sustainable and local as possible,” says La Torre.
Opa is inviting enough for date night yet casual enough to bring the whole family. The menu has plenty of choices for vegetarians (which is rare in Spokane), light meals for kids and full dinners. What started as a restaurant on my list of places to “try someday” has moved up toa new family favorite.
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