Editor's note: In her new biweekly column, Serious Eats columnist Maggie Hoffman will seek out the best vegetarian dishes at omnivore-friendly restaurants in New York. She kicks it off with a few great meze from Pylos, a Greek restaurant in the East Village.
128 East 7th Street, New York 10009 (b/n Avenue A and 1st Avenue; map); 212-473-0220; pylosrestaurant.com
Veggie Options: Eight meze, four salads, and several side dishes
Cost: About $25 per person, excluding drinks
Pylos in the East Village may be known for its meatballs, its grilled octopus, and the clay pots that festoon its ceiling, but it should also be known as a good place to eat vegetarian food. Classic Greek dishes and creative spins on traditional meze make Pylos a tasty option for meat-eaters and meat-avoiders alike.
Our waiter happily pointed us toward the veg-friendly dishes on the menu; there's quite a variety to choose from, although none of the higher-priced entrees are meat-free. For a satisfying meal, we recommend ordering about two meze or salads per person.
We started with a generous bowl of horiatiki ($10), the classic lettuceless Greek salad. This version was a flavorful mix of cucumber, kalamata olives, slivers of purple onions, slabs of feta, plump capers, and surprisingly flavorful tomatoes, given the season. It would have been easy to devour the entire plate of complimentary pita bread at this point—it's warm, tasty, and cut up into conveniently bite-sized pieces.
The highlight of our meal was the Anginares Moussaka ($11), layered with nutty artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and Greek cheese. This is not your grandmother's leaden moussaka—it's quite delicate, topped with unexpectedly light béchamel. Order your own portion. You won't want to share.
Tender (but still firm-skinned) gigante beans ($9) arrived in a baking dish with tomato sauce and a sprinkling of dill. They were not particularly exciting, but were fresh tasting and well-prepared, and they did provide a break from the richness of the moussaka and the cheese to come.
We finished with a dish of fried haloumi cheese ($12) served with warm green grapes and a grappa reduction. Since haloumi has a high melting point, it can be fried until crispy on the outside without melting. This version was chewy and fresh-tasting, salty and sweet from the softened grapes. My dining partner couldn't stop eating it.
The vegetarian options at Pylos were not afterthoughts—they're noteworthy, satisfying dishes, made with care and worth ordering whether you eat meat or not. While the restaurant is a bit pricier than many of its neighbors in the East Village, the setting is elegant enough for a romantic evening or a special occasion.
About the Author: Maggie Hoffman also writes about cooking for Pithy and Cleaver.