The year of 2008 was a wonderful one for East Brunswick. It got a new neighbour, Hellenic Republic, named after Greece — its official name, anyway. One of the many venues in George Calombaris' MAdE Establishment, Hellenic is serving up Greek food, just the way you want it. The space feels like it could be in the middle of any city, tucked in the top end of Lygon Street, it welcomes you with huge wooden doors and just the right amount of loud busyness. The staff are always as welcoming as the space.
The open plan kitchen busts out some seriously tasty eats. Start with a selection of dips, like the Taramosalata, a white cod roe dip ($10), and the Melitzanosalata — smoked eggplant, pine nuts and Aleppo pepper ($9) — with warm pita bread ($4.50). The Tyri saganaki with peppered figs ($14.50) is one of those must-orders as is the Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts, and yoghurt ($12). Mains are either from the grill and rotisserie, with that strong charcoal flavour, or from the oven. The rotisserie chicken ($25) is moist and flavoursome, while the char-grilled calamari is light and clean ($18). Traditional dishes like the spanakopita ($10) and the moussaka ($17) come straight from the oven, just like your grandmother would have made them, had she been Greek.
For something sweet, the Hellenic doughnuts with honey, cinnamon, walnuts ($12.50) and the Hellenic Mess — broken meringue, orange blossom jelly, vanilla krema, strawberry ouzo sauce ($12.50) — hit the spot perfectly.
The wine list is heavy on drops from Hellenic Republic itself – the country, not the restaurant. Start with the refreshing Tselepos Amalia Brut from Mantinia ($69 bottle) with touches of honey, or perhaps the floral and sweet Mercouri Estate 'Kallisto' Assyrtiko Robola ($49 bottle). Or, for a full-bodied red go for the Rapsani Reserve Xinomauvro Blend ($63 bottle). Ouzo lovers can sip the Barbayanni 'Black Aphrodite' Triple Distilled ($9), while beer drinkers might enjoy the Vergina Lager from Thraki, Greece ($10).
This little slice of Greece will have you coming back for more. It also might leave you dreaming of a certain Cypriot salad. But, maybe that's just us.