Tribeca Citizen | New Vegetarian on the Block: Greca
A recent mention of Greca‘s transformation to a vegetarian restaurant got some surprising (to me) comments so I thought it warranted a full post. Even some of my vegetarian friends were complaining — for some reason they want to smell cooked meat even if they don’t want to eat it. (I am the opposite — I don’t want to smell it cooking at all unless I am outdoors at a grill.)
The new menu, which owner Tom Galis introduced on Sept. 9, is small but diverse. And the food is original, generous and hearty — satisfying even for those carnivores among us. Even if you love meat, go try it — by Galis’ fairly extensive research, it is the only vegetarian Greek in the nation. (He thinks there is one in Montreal.)
His motivation to change the menu at Greca — which he combined with his other restaurant, The Greek, during covid — was simply that he thought it was the right thing to do. (He opened The Greek in 2013 and Greca in 2018.)
“I can’t do one thing in my personal life and do something different in my professional life,” Galis said. He’s been vegetarian for two years. “I went to Greece on a vacation — I was burnt out from working throughout all of covid — and as I recharged it became clear to me that this was the right way to go.”
At the end of 2019, Galis had a heart attack — and while he fully recovered, he decided then to change his ways. He stopped smoking and drinking, quit meat, discovered leaner sources of protein and as a result has lost 50 pounds since May 2020. He also decided it was time to take a stance against the industrialized food supply here in this country, especially after his visit to Greece.
“The origins of Greek food are what the earth gives, mostly plant based,” he says. “My grandparents ate very little meat, for instance. It’s very easy to make Greek food vegetarian.”
Greca Vegetarian Greek is now the official name on Google Maps, and he still has the grocery at the south end of the restaurant. And because he is saving so much money by not buying overpriced meats and fish — which is what he had to do to get the best products here in the city — he is now using his buying power to source natural and sustainable products.
We had the Marouli salad, which had chunks of halloumi cheese from Cyprus, which with its high melting point, can be grilled. (My mother refused to accept that it was not chicken.) The penne with jackfruit ragu is super hearty and would be a good kid-pleaser, and I will eat shakshuka in any form — this one had giant beans and air-fried eggs. The portobello gyro may have been my fave.
“I reinvested the money into purchasing all organic produce — plus flour for the breads and natural products from Greece — and now we can make our quality even better.”
Galis is definitely proselytizing, but he has no regrets or apologies about his own health or the new direction for the restaurant.
“I’ve made a major transformation personally — I am physically healthier and mentally healthier,” he said. “I’m the poster boy for this nutritional revolution.”