In New York, where the rents are as high as the buildings and space comes at a premium, many restaurants have to make do with closet-sized kitchens. Creating fantastic food in that kind of setup can be challenging, but it's something that Anthi's Greek Food on Amsterdam Avenue excels at.
There's no room for tables and chairs in this narrow storefront nestled between a bodega and a dry cleaners: just a couple of refrigerated cases crammed with home-style Greek dishes prepared with care. Many of the mezze and main dish options here are vegetarian, and they're so cheap that on a recent visit I was able to sample six and still come in under budget.
I started with a selection of cold salads. First up was a Classic Greek Salad ($5) of fresh chopped cucumber and tomatoes that somehow tasted good even in December, scattered with pitted olives and seasoned with plenty of oregano. The salad comes topped with a superb creamy, funky, slightly aged feta.
A bright pink Beet and Yogurt Salad ($5) is excellent, featuring firm diced beets folded into an insanely thick, smooth, milky Greek yogurt that Anthi's also serves up folded with fruit as breakfast/dessert. A healthy dose of garlic keeps this salad anchored firmly in savory territory.
Baba Ghanoush is my litmus test for Mediterranean food, and the version at Anthi's ($5) passes with flying colors: it's soft and silky, extremely garlicky and nutty with plenty of tahini.
Of course, no trip to a Greek restaurant is complete without an order of Spanakopita. Anthi's spinach pie ($4) is flaky and heavy on the filling, which tastes earthy from spinach and bright from a ton of fresh dill.
Another hot dish I tried was Gigante Beans in Tomato Sauce ($5), which features large, perfectly-textured and well-seasoned beans suspended in a thick, rich, oily (in a good way) sauce flavored with plenty of parsley and oregano.
I'm saving the best for last here and telling you about the Vegetarian Moussaka ($5), a meat-free version of the eggplant and béchamel casserole typically layered with spiced ground lamb. Anthi's doesn't offer its vegetarian version every day, but boy was I glad to get the last slice on my visit: the huge, juicy, completely non-oily chunks of baked eggplant were sweet and creamy, accented perfectly by the mild sauce and firm chunks of starchy potatoes.
Sometimes takeout gets a bad rap. But I'd be happy to eat the soulful, wonderfully flavored Greek fare at Anthi's any day of the week.