It is a place I fell in love with and had owners I also grew to love.
Friends in North Pointe Plaza at Dupont and Lima roads not only had traditional and delicious Greek offerings on its menu, but Nikos and Ana Hatzigeorgiou were the best hosts a restaurant could ask for. The veteran owners ran a tight ship, so service was never an issue, and their charm and personalities were as much a part of the dining experience there as the food, especially Nikos. He would basically be the poster child for Greek Restaurant Owners Inc., if such a group existed.
Their success in northeast Fort Wayne led to Nikos' Friends, Too along West Jefferson Boulevard. Nikos' name has been added to the second incarnation and he spends most if not all of his time at that location. I did miss him and Ana – who, I was told, was recently forced to take some time for health reasons – because neither was present during my visits to the original Friends and there just seemed to be something a bit off.
Even some of the items I liked had flaws. That lack of consistency was really shocking from a place I have so heavily recommended in the past.
There were several items that were right through and through.
The char-broiled octopus appetizer was a pleasant surprise with chunks of the cephalopod cooked perfectly to be meaty and tender instead of rubbery with just the right char. A splash of red wine vinegar, a little salt and a touch of fresh lemon was all it needed, and I loved every morsel.
The daily offering of tomato bisque was wonderful with a savory roasted tomato flavor and the nice addition of a cheese-topped toast point, which was kind of like a mini-grilled cheese to dunk in the soup. Everyone knows nothing is better with tomato soup than a grilled cheese.
And, of course, the standard gyro was flawless with tender, juicy slices of the heavily seasoned lamb and beef roll; fresh, crisp onions; bright red tomatoes; and the restaurant's light, creamy, simply perfect tzatziki sauce.
The appetizer combo sampler also had that tasty tzatziki along with Friends' hummus and spicy feta dips. The spicy feta was the star. It had a hefty kick of pepper flavor and spice that came from spicy green Hungarian peppers.
But the hummus, which has always been spot on in the past, had issues. During one visit, it had the perfect smooth, creamy consistency, but was terribly bland. During another, it was delicious with a nice lemony kick, but it was too thick and pasty, and actually held the shape of the ice cream scoop it was served from.
It is also worth noting that the sampler comes with only two pitas, so just go ahead and order extras because two is never enough.
I had never had breakfast at either Friends before – despite hearing raves about it – so I had to try Nikos' Omelet. This thick monster – which could be shared by two with plenty to still take home – was stuffed with gyro meat, feta, tomatoes and diced Hungarian peppers. It came with fried potatoes and a stack of pancakes, which were thick, airy and scrumptious.
The omelet was also scrumptious. It was fluffy, light and the generous amount of feta kept me from grabbing the salt shaker. The peppers were not really spicy as in hot, but they did flavor the entire omelet so their presence was prominent. And that flavor was nice.
The potatoes, however, were as bad as the omelet was good. They were obviously boiled before being fried, but, instead of being properly par broiled, they were cooked through until mushy. They would have been better as mashed potatoes because they were barely browned and had zero crispness.
But even they were not as disappointing as my half rack of lamb chops. One thing I never expect when it comes to Greek food is a lack of seasoning. The chops I had at Friends, however, were about as bland as bland could be. It was too bad, too, because they were nicely cooked to be pink and juicy.
Some of the seasoning from the shrimp saganaki could have been used on those chops because this dish was way too salty. The shrimp, like the lamb, were cooked just right – plump, juicy and plentiful. And even though the red sauce had a lot of feta, it wasn't that cheese that made it salty, it was a heavy hand with the salt in the kitchen. That killed any chance for the sweetness of the tomato-based sauce to be detected and made the dish basically inedible.
The last dish that disappointed was the Big Fat Greek Sirloin. An Americanized version of the gyro, it had roasted sirloin on a hoagie bun with lettuce, tomato, feta and tzatziki. Served open-faced, I never put the top bun on it because there was a gigantic pool of tzatziki mixed with the feta, burying the meat so eating it like a sandwich was impossible. Perhaps they were trying to bury the sirloin, which was shaved like gyro meat, because it was dry and pretty much flavorless.
But, again, there was a little saving grace in this dish in the form of Friends' coleslaw. The cabbage and a little carrot was finely shredded; so finely it was about the thickness of angel hair pasta. It was dressed in a creamy sweet – but not too sweet – dressing. When it comes to coleslaw, this is the kind I love and the kind that I go back for.
And, yes, I will go back to Friends. Its long record of excellence ensures that. But if the inconsistencies that marred these trips continue, I may have to unfriend what has been one of my favorite Greek spots.
Address: 1824-A Dupont Road
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Appetizer combo ($6.79), soup of the day ($2.49 cup; $3.29 bowl), car-broiled octopus ($7.49), gryo ($4.99), Nikos' Omelet ($7.99), lamb ($17.49 half rack; $32.99 full), shrimp saganaki ($9.99), Greek sirloin ($6.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).