Restaurant Review - Grecian Yearn

Roswell's Mythos evokes Mediterranean memories

I close my eyes and taste the sweet, piney zest of Greek oregano in between nibbles of a meatball so tender it's barely holding together. The light tang of trahana (pasta pebbles made with sour milk) deepens the caramel of the keftede's pan-seared outside, and the inside is intensely beefy, yet feathery.

A second bite transports me to the cupboard kitchen of my friend's aunt Soula in a one-church village in Greece, near the Albanian border. She pats her secret mixture into apricot-sized spheres and fries them 10 at a time in a skillet black and heavy from decades of use. She speaks no English. I can only string together enough Greek to ask for another helping of her keftedakia. Hot out of the pan, they steam like a vent in the earth when cut open, letting loose the heady aroma of onions, oregano and browned beef. They aren't just meatballs — they're a way we can communicate, an introduction to a lusty, underappreciated cuisine that claims my heart.

I take another bite, and the meatball's crusty sides are rough in the mouth, while its rosy interior is like velvet on the tongue. All I want is one more of these treasures. I open my eyes to reach for another keftede and find myself at a relaxed Greek taverna in Roswell.

My search for the lusty, rustic food I fell in love with in Greece has come to an end at Mythos. While much care is taken with presentation, dishes are simple and earthy. The warm atmosphere is inviting, but Mythos isn't a near-parody of Greek culture where staff members hop onto tables and throw napkins at every turn.

Yes, there are big white columns and touches of deep blue (in the form of glass light pendants). Stunning photos of Thira line the wall, proudly displaying the island's heart-stopping blueness of sky and sea, which are all the more striking for the sugar-white church domes perched on its cliffs. Brick work through the bar area and one wall of the dining room adds an intimate, bucolic touch.

The servers will let loose an "OPA!" as they set your saganaki on fire. They will tend to you as if you're family, but there won't be any unsolicited chattiness. Dinner will be a meal, not a show.

A bevy of cold and hot appetizers, vegetables and soups, and an excellent wine list that offers tastes, glasses and full bottles of each selection make a meal of nibbles as satisfying as a traditional three-courser. We chose the sampling route on our first visit. Taramosalata, a spread made of smoked cod roe, bread, potato, onion and olive oil, is a creamy, whippy delight, with just a hint of the seaside. Smoky, sensually earthy eggplant is mashed with garlic and olive oil to create melitzanosalata, which, despite its hefty texture, melts in your mouth. Htipiti, a feta-based puree of peppers and olive oil, is the bright orange of pimento cheese. Although it doesn't have the piquant burn of the pure white version I favor, I still wipe it off every inch of the plate with a pita wedge.

Mythos' oregano, as the menu states, is imported from Greece. This wild mountain sort is bewitching, an entirely different herb than the stateside trimmings we're used to. The dishes would be incomplete without it. Greek country sausages, whose casings tantalizingly pop when you bite them, are served with a lashing of lemon and oregano that minimizes their greasy nature. Grilled octopus is a bit chewy, but nicely charred. Grilled calamari are so light and tender they practically float off the platter, anchored only by a hint of smokiness.

The kefalograviera saganaki, a pan-fried disc of hard cheese set alight with ouzo and extinguished with lemon, is briny, gooey and mesmerizing. Mythos' giant beans with tomatoes are creamy and as heart stirring as the kind I had in a tiny mountain village in Crete. Avgolemono soup sports a heavy helping of lemon. It is thick, luscious and dotted with bits of chicken and orzo.

Clay-pot offerings are homey, if unexciting. Moussaka is hearty with layers of potato, eggplant and zucchini, but its ground beef is bland. Lamb gouvetsi headily pairs braised lamb that is the very definition of falling-off-the-bone with red wine, tomatoes and orzo, but the pasta is cooked almost to a mush.

On the second visit, we forgo the temptation of a multicourse Easter menu for a la carte selections. Disappointingly, all the grilled fish selections are unavailable, but grilled meat offerings were the stars of the evening. The grilled quail were exquisite. Succulent, honeyed meat beneath crisp mahogany skin defied you not to gnaw on the tiny bones for every last bit of meat. The lamb chops were absolutely beautiful — seared crunchy, nut brown and delicately medium-rare with a bare gaminess kept in check by the Greek oregano's sweet bite.

Nescafe is displayed in tins in clear view behind the bar and is offered on the printed drinks menu. However, my server on the second visit would not oblige my desire for a frappe (a cold, frothy Nescafe drink that is to Greece what sweet tea is to the South). When pressed, he would only respond, "I'm sorry, we don't have it." Read: We've already cleaned up the bar. Skip the achingly sweet and unspecial baklava and kataifi for dessert and go for a wedge of the galaktoboureko, a phyllo-topped pastry of semolina custard that is intensely buttery.

The journey to Soula's house required four spare hours and a brave heart for Greek public transportation, but I managed it almost every weekend for a taste of those meatballs. It's no small joy to discover that, deep in the Atlanta suburbs, feasts at Mythos evoke all the memories and flavors of a time so sweet my stomach nearly rumbles for them.


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