The scores for Amphora Atmosphere: 18/20 Menu: 19/20 Food: 19/20 Service: 19/20 Value: 19/20 TOTAL: 94/100
Tucked away in a corner of a large shopping center in the middle of Derry is a comfortable and classy — and busy — little storefront restaurant/catering business that serves up classic Greek food, homemade and delicious.
You might have to do a little hunting to find it, because Amphora is literally tucked into a corner where there should be no corner, next door to a corner tenant (a large coffee shop) at Hood Commons on Crystal Avenue.
Amphora offers “fine Greek dining” on its sign, its menu and its website — and it is not an idle boast.
The food is indeed fine, and the menu lacks not one thing that you would expect in a fancier and much higher-priced Greek establishment. We had never been to Amphora, and it was a treat to enjoy its great food and terrific service in its relaxed atmosphere.
Amphora is quite small, with fewer than a dozen tables and booths. We had heard that earlier on this evening it was crowded with the dinner rush, but by 7 p.m. we had our choice of booths, and after a quick look at the menu we figured this was going to be good.
Amphora is about as authentic as can be, with Greek artwork and decorations, and large baskets of food and goodies to go. Greek decorations abound, with many amphoras (tall, two-handled Greek vases), busts of Greek rulers and paintings of beautiful Grteek women.
There are creative touches all over the menu. There are dishes specially prepared for take-out and baking at home, and we suspect there are many parties and office functions served by this caterer that states “We invented democracy, we can handle your board meeting!”
Eggplant Frites ($7.95) and Spanakopita ($3.25) came as our appetizers and set the tone for our entire meal, which was all about seasoning, seasoning, seasoning. There is no salt or pepper on the tables, no condiments to be found, and with good reason. You don’t need any.
The deep-fried slivers from a large eggplant were piled high and thoroughly seasoned with a slightly-salty and delicious mixture of herbs and enhancing seasonings. The dipping sauce was slightly sweet and slightly tangy — just right.
The Spanakopita was a large triangle of almost-crisp filo pastry stuffed with warm spinach and melting feta cheese. It needed nothing, and we were tempted to order its brother dish, Kreatopita ($3.25) which is the same thing except the spinach is replaced with sauteed, seasoned ground Angus beef.
The frites and stuffed filo were two great appetizers we enjoyed with a glass of white wine, and an IPA draft from one of three local breweries that rotate at Amphora: Kelsen, 603 and Rockingham Breweries..
Lamb Shank ($21.95) was one of our entree choices, along with the Combination Grill Platter ($16), but before we got to those we received a house Greek salad with both of our entrees.
The term house salad does not do justice sometimes, and this was one of those times. Amphora’s salads convinced us that next time, and soon, we will each dine on a full entree-sized salad with steak tips, or grilled lamb, or shrimp, or chicken or antipasto (which will come to $13 or less). And whatever is in Amphora’s “original Greek dressing” should be in all salad dressings, everywhere.
Add to each salad two warm slices of lightly oiled and wonderfully seasoned pita bread and you’ve got a starter worth writing about.
The Combination Grill Platter offers two choices from souvlaki, chicken, gyro, shrimp or vegetables on a kabob, served over pilaf. The chicken was a thick and moist char-grilled breast with a classic Greek seasoning and “Amphora spices” — and thoroughly delicious. The veggie kabob was fully loaded with thick slices of green and red peppers, squash, zucchini and onions, served over a large bed of rice pilaf with a lemon-enhanced sauce. If you order this as a take-out dish we would recommend it for two people, with a house salad each, and dinner is nicely done.
Lamb Shanks ($21.95), Kayla told us, are slow-cooked for hours and hours, and Amphora’s menu plainly states that the meat will fall off the bone. So we tried it — and this was after it had been served for perhaps 10 minutes and our first tastes of lamb and potatoes had been had. We had been forking the flavorful meat off the bone a bite at a time and remarked how tender it was, and then we remembered the “fall-off-the-bone” menu promise.
So, of course we picked up one of the two remaining, fully-loaded bones and, voila!, the meat immediately fell off, just as it was supposed to do. And we weren’t holding it four feet above the plate for maximum gravity effect. It fell off the bone as soon as we picked it up.That was a first for us.
All told, there were three large and loaded bones of grass-fed, dark lamb, accompanied by a healthy serving of lemon-oregano sliced potatoes — meat and potatoes in a classic Greek style, with plenty of red Greek meat sauce slathered all over the lamb. A terrific meal with plenty to take home for leftovers.
For dessert there are several Greek classics, including, naturally, Baklava. We opted to share a Rizogalo ($4), a chilled rice pudding with a sprinkle of cinnamon. This cool dessert dish was the perfect balm for tastebuds that had been through a delightful, if not somewhat challenging, dinner.
For a smaller and less dramatic introduction to Amphora’s huge taste, lunch specials are very affordable (a good variety, all under $10).
Amphora is a grand little place, and our hats are off to owner Peter Tsoupelis and family for years of service to the Derry community, its schools and civic endeavors.
The Tsoupelis family knows the secret to authentic Greek seasonings and spices, and the restaurant tucked away at Hood Commons is our chance to enjoy the bounty.