The ground floor of a typically dull office park might not be where you’d expect to find some darn good, authentic Greek fare, but the owners of Santa Clara’s Old Ironsides Café (located just off Great America Parkway north of Highway 101, and about a quarter mile south of the Old Ironsides lightrail station) have been serving it up since 1988.
Most of the valley’s Greek-themed luncheonettes dish out Cypriot-style gyros, some even serve them in a bowl — a culinary crime, in my book! But Old Ironsides leans toward the classic Greek. Thinly sliced strips of mildly spiced lamb piled high with red onions and lettuce are smothered with a tangy yogurt dressing, then folded into a soft, warm, round, wheat flatbread. Like all good gyros, once you remove it from the paper wrapping in which it is served, you won’t be able to put it down for fear of it falling apart.
Old Ironsides’ lunch combinations come with hummus and the café’s Veggie Delight — essentially Mujadara (a traditional Mediterranean rice and lentil dish), subtly infused with caramelized onions, and enlivened with crisp diced tomatoes and cucumbers. Mixing in a spoonful of minced jalapeños (you have to ask for them!) transforms the side dish into a delicious transcontinental fusion one would only find in Silicon Valley. The tabbouleh (made from crushed wheat bulgur, and finely chopped parsley and tomatoes) is cool and fresh with a hint of lemon. If you’re not quite ready to plunge into unfamiliar kibbeh, kabobs, falafel, dolmas, or gyros, a wide variety of less-Mediterranean choices are available, ranging from Hoagies and Polish sausages to Philly cheese steaks and a slew of vegetarian dishes.
A can of soda is included with any of the combos, but you can substitute anything else (the typical bottled waters, juices, and beers) for a nominal surcharge. I don’t drink coffee, but I’ve been told by several coworkers that the traditionally thick, twice-boiled Turkish coffee, a specialty of the café for many years, is exceptional. I’m sure it goes quite well with the assortment of flaky, homemade baklava and various slices of cakes displayed on the ample countertop.
There is a reasonable amount of seating, but the round tables are quite small — suitable for two, but very cramped and a bit awkward when forced during peak hours to accommodate your party of four. High-top counters and bar stools line the front, and there is room for some spillover in the patio area of the office complex at the rear of the café.
Old Ironsides sports the kind of wall treatments one would expect in an informal Greek restaurant, the somewhat confusing exception being a large poster of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle. The misnomered “Deli Bar” in an unobtrusive corner begrudgingly relinquishes a small space for communal sauces and condiments, as it mainly serves as a touching mantelpiece of old family photos. The familial atmosphere is further enhanced by the proprietors themselves, who — while a bit brusk and hurried during the busiest times — are otherwise very caring, friendly, and accommodating.
The pair of surrogate Greek relatives coupled with the fresh, authentic Mediterranean cuisine entice me back once or twice a month to fulfill a frequent craving.
Author’s note: I’m feel like I should be somewhat apologetic to these nice folks that a review of their family-owned restaurant happens to sit between Maria’s breasts and two prostitutes from Dominican Republic.
Hmmm… On the other hand, I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad because I wouldn’t mind being between Maria’s breasts and two prostitutes from Dominican Republic myself…