Dispatches from Ashburn

Authentic Greek from a Native Grecian; SoCal Asian Fusion in an American Brewery

By Stefanie Gans / Photography by Kate Bohler

 

A trio of dips

A trio of dips

Opa! Mezze Grille
Although Konstantinos Drosos was born in Greece 61 years ago and lived there for 20 years before coming to America, he ventured back to his homeland to relearn the art of the gyro before opening up Opa! Mezze Grille.

Through an extended connection on his wife’s side (Ekaterina Drosos works the dining room of the family restaurant), Drosos trained under a gyro shop owner selling 300 kilos (over 660 pounds) of meat a day. Drosos turned his learning into the Opa! gyro, a piggy-and-french-fry-loaded pita sandwich. Marinated and grilled on a vertical spit, the meat is at times tender and crispy, and in other bites, chewy.

Kolokithokeftedes, however, is where it’s at. Named simply as zucchini fritters on the small menu, this rivals falafel for the best meatless addition to a pita wrap.

Chef Konstantinos Drosos shaving meat from the gyro spit

Chef Konstantinos Drosos shaving meat from the gyro spit

Shaped long and round, shredded squash is quickly boiled and mixed with potatoes before landing in the fryer, providing it a creamy texture. The barely there batter melts into the pita with the help of warmed tzatziki.

Saganiki keeps its Greek identity, not needing an English translation on the menu. The cheese is similar to haloumi, a hard cheese that refuses to melt. Saganiki gives a bit more, transforming into a half-melt under a lacy, flour coating. It’s reminiscent of a bright farmers cheese and only wows more with a few squirts of lemon.

In Greece, servers perform flambé tableside, lighting the cheese on fire with seconds of a pour of Ouzo. In Opa!’s bright sky blue dining room, accented with white wainscoting, and bumped-out columns, the tight fit doesn’t allow for drama. Drosos instead uses a small fry pan in the back, but with a similar edible effect.

Sticky sweet baklava.

Sticky sweet baklava.

“Everybody says I make good baklava,” says Drosos, who’s been cooking for over 40 years, including at Ikaros, a restaurant he owned for over a decade in Chantilly back in the 1990s.

Drosos takes his time with this signature Greek dessert, letting his honey sauce—honey, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon—cook for an hour. The sacchariferous ending leans on the soggier side, but is so rich in its rounded sweetness, it works. Just like this new option for Ashburn.

Lost Rhino Brewing Company
There’s a picnic feel to the new tasting room at the Lost Rhino Brewing Company. On the few booths and tables to the left of the entrance, baskets of help-yourself napkins and disposable utensils (made out of very green compressed bamboo and plant starches) present a laid-back vibe.

Plump shrimp, dressed in a creamy mango puree and mayonnaise dressing, tumble atop awkwardly cut romaine leaves and tough squares of cabbage. Strands of long red pepper stripe the throw-away plate. Chunks of mango sink to the bottom of this tasty, but haphazardly assembled, salad.

But after hearing chef Becky Jordan’s interpretation of dining, it makes sense. She based the tiny area, with an even tinier kitchen, on the casual, beachy brewpubs of San Diego. Plus, the current dimensions of the alley kitchen won’t allow for a full-sized dishwashing system.

The 30-year-old Jordan, who is also general manager, moved to this Ashburn hot spot (which could be the town’s next biggest scene behind Ford’s Fish Shack) after four years as the executive chef at Frederickburg’s Capital Ale House.

While still in Fredericksburg, Jordan reached out to the owners of Lost Rhino after trying their beers at a festival. She soon started tracking their progress on Facebook and approached them about cooking.

“No, we are not opening a restaurant. Forget it,” Jordan remembers the owners Matt Hagerman and Favio Garcia saying. But after a couple of months, they reached out to Jordan for a preliminary discussion on food. At the time, a rotating crew of food trucks sold sandwiches in the parking lot out front.

They decided to keep the menu local, seasonal, small and in direct connection to the beer, which is exactly what excited Jordan.

A huge basket of layered tortilla chips offers braised, shredded chicken, squirted with Woody Stout BBQ sauce, made from Lost Rhino’s eponymous beer, plus lots of apple cider vinegar (Jordan claims the eastern Carolina barbecue camp after spending her college years there). The cheese on the nacho platter also derives from the brewery, as its Face Plant IPA mixes with pepper jack and jalapenos (more please!) to form a thick, and somewhat floury, sauce.

A watermelon gazpacho also receives help from the vinegar department, with its red wine version bringing a kicky brightness to the savory, cold summer soup.

Earlier this summer, Jordan sourced her watermelons from outside of the state, something that doesn’t happen for most of the menu.

Jordan, together with the brewers, are working on creating an all-Virginia beer and are trying to find seeds and spices (caraway, fennel) grown in the state. Jordan is also requesting the team produce a rye beer so she can turn the spent (used) grain into rye crackers.

The kitchen opened in late spring, and by June the team already spread next door, adding a private events area plus six more brewing tanks.

Jordan’s upgrade request? A smoker. Will it happen? If she convinced the brewers they needed food, a smoker is probably in her future.

 

Lost Rhino Beer & Grub Pairings

 

Opa! Mezze Grille
44110 Ashburn Shopping Plaza, Ashburn; 703-729-2211; opamezzegrill.com
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Average entree: 12 and under ($)

Lost Rhino Brewing Company
21730 Red Rum Drive, Suite 142, Ashburn; 571-291-2083; lostrhino.com
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday.
Average entree: 12 and under ($)

 

(August 2012)

 

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2 Responses

AKhan Says:


I went to Opa! a few months ago and have not had the opportunity to write about my experience. First and foremost, the sign and interior design provoke thoughts of the beautiful Mediterranean. The warm blue colors and pictures make you want to keep staring at the walls. Then comes the service, I was greeted by the owners wife with a warm smile and a lovely conversation. I decided to order Santorini Shrimp platter, and the owner was kind enough to change the recipe to not include wine. He actually came out and talked to me about how good the dish was! After a few minutes of waiting, the food came out piping hot and DELICIOUS! The shrimp were some of the biggest and most plump I have seen and were absolutely cooked to perfection (mouth is watering as I am typing this), the rice was flavorful and the tomato sauce was so well cooked, and seasoned that I was scraping the last remnants to enjoy the flavor to the last drop. My friend had a Freek salad with Shrimp and he said that this is the best salad he has had – EVER! Props to Opa! for bringing to Loudoun a much needed Mediterranean getaway! And as I was mentioning service, the owner and his wife brought us complimentary pieces of baklava to top off the great meal. Thanks for writing this article.

AKhan Says:


Greek* Salad – not Freek Salad.

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