I’ve been in a bit of a food-related rut for almost the entire time I’ve been living in Collegetown. On one hand, I’ve been avoiding Souvlaki House largely because a few of my friends have been there and said less-than-stellar things about it. On the other, I recognize that I’m the one true Jersey boy among the population of Cornell. That is to say, I’ve been jonesing for some good old Italian comfort food, and I’m really sick of the Asian fare that Collegetown is loaded with. I know it has everything to do with the fact that most Cornellians tend to find Asian food to be fashionable. That’s why even Oishii Bowl, despite the fact that everyone I know who went there didn’t like it and the fact that many Cornellians have even read my two reviews (the Khao Man Gai and the Oyako Don), seems to be getting a fair amount of business.
Tonight, I found myself alone in figuring out dinner plans. I decided to hop over to Souvlaki House, one of few places in Collegetown I actually somehow have never been to in the five years I’ve been a Cornell student. When I entered, there was something rather familiar about the ambiance of Souvlaki House. For a while, I was completely unable to place it.
Dinner started with a salad. As I said in my guide to eating lunch on Cornell’s campus, I’m not likely to shower a salad with praise. However, the best way I can describe the salad I got at Souvlaki House is that it lacks imagination. It was basically iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, olives (with their pits still in them), and feta cheese topped with a light dressing. As much as I like feta cheese, I think it’s supposed to be used as a way to flavor a salad, not actually be a constituent of the salad itself. There was this one, massive mound of feta in the middle of my salad. You can even see it peaking through in the photo I took of it. I feared that what everyone says about Souvlaki House could be well-founded, and that was until I got to the main course.
For dinner, I had the Souvlaki House Special, which was simply meatballs, Italian sausages, and eggplants baked in a lot of marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. With my experience eating Italian food, I knew I had to be careful. Melted cheese can burn the roof of your mouth, leaving you unable to feel it for the next day. As I dug in, I found the meat’s own spicy seasoning working very well with the mildly spicy marinara sauce. Of course, the oozing cheese was there to counterbalance everything.
It was while I was eating this casserole that why I found Souvlaki House so familiar hit me: It reminded me of New Jersey. Sure, the food wasn’t fine dining, but it was Italian comfort food. As far as Italian comfort food goes, the Souvlaki House Special did everything it was supposed to. It would’ve been perfect if it came with a small helping of pasta instead of the salad.
In addition to the salad, my other main gripe is the tab. The meal itself was about $13.90. Factoring in the root beer and tip and tax, the total came out to $20. It was creeping up to how much I paid for my burger at Circa at DuPont. Unlike Souvlaki House, Circa is a really classy joint in a really upscale part of Washington, DC. I will have to agree with friends who say that Souvlaki’s food doesn’t justify the price.
However, there is still a reason to go. If you are from New Jersey, and you’ve been away from home for a while, and you just wanted some Italian comfort food, then you should drop by Souvlaki House once. It honestly felt like a bit of New Jersey transplanted itself here in upstate New York. And thankfully, it’s free of artificially tan Italian Staten Islanders.
The verdict: The Jersiest Jersey place you can find in Ithaca