Jimmy Bratsos lights the saganaki at Roditys
Photography by Beth Rooney
At Santorini, a hop across Adams Street from ­Pegasus, we agreed that the saganaki — “Opa!” again — was slightly­ chewier and saltier. Santorini uses a kefalograviera, which is custom-made from cow’s milk.

But it was at Roditys — “Opa!” for a third time — that our saganaki exploration took a decisive turn. The saganaki at this venerable Greektown restaurant, a waiter told us, is made with kasseri, mild to the taste and gooey enough for a pizza. It needed that egg-batter crust just to hold it together. We all agreed, when the waiter was listening, that it could have been French. Kasseri is a semihard sheep’s-milk cheese with a salt content of only 3.1 percent.

After sampling the saganaki at two more restaurants, Greek Islands (kefalotiri) and Athena ­(kefalograviera) — “Opa!” and “Opa!” — we again encountered a saganaki made with kasseri, this time at our sixth and final stop, the Parthenon. We identified it instantly, which made us feel like smug pros.

“Kasseri,” one son says.

“Definitely,” I say.

“No question,” the other son says.

Chris Liakouras and The Parthenon Cookbook
Photography by Beth Rooney
But here’s the thing: Far from being pros, we really were saganaki novices. I later learned from the owners at Roditys that despite what the waiter had told us, they make their saganaki with kefalograviera, not kasseri. Though the saganaki at Roditys and the Parthenon tasted very much alike, they use different Greek cheeses.

So maybe it’s not all in the cheese.

For the record, by the way, we liked every­ saganaki we tried, which is allowed. Saganaki is not one of those weird Chicago things, like North Side versus South Side or deep-dish versus thin crust or Cubs versus White Sox. Chicago common law permits liking more than one kind of flaming Greek cheese. But if we were to make saganaki at home, my sons and I agreed, we’d probably go with kasseri.

What else did we learn?

  1. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, even saganaki.

  2. It is possible for somebody who shares half my DNA not to care for ouzo.

  3. In Greektown, the crazy-hard work ethic of the Delta generation continues.
     
When I called the Parthenon’s general number recently, Chris Liakouras picked up the phone. How utterly unnecessary. At age 76, after a lifetime of 15-hour days, surely somebody else could man the phone. Why, I asked him, wasn’t he sitting in a plastic chair on a deck in Florida, like a proper old man?

“I work,” he says with a shrug in his voice, clearly unable to grasp the concept of not working. “I open in the morning and work.”

And Liakouras’ daughter Yanna, who grew up in the restaurant and is now the manager and a partner, does the same. You’ll find her at the Parthenon most of her waking hours, where she wants you to know she “genuinely” enjoys it, especially the cheerful vibe and friendships with customers. This is easy enough to believe. A welcoming restaurant cannot fake it.

All the same, Yanna admits with a laugh, “I’m contemplating bringing in a priest, buying a gold wedding band, wearing a wedding gown and having an official wedding ceremony between myself and the Parthenon.”

Such is the story — common-law marriages to small businesses — up and down the strip.