Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saganaki & Why I Never Met Danny Devito

Long ago, in my early university days, I got by working as a server in a Greek restaurant.

Occasionally we had saganaki on the menu as an appetizer special. I appreciated the rarity of the dish, as the combination of hungry diners and leaping flames was always a dangerous mix.

One night when we didn't have saganaki on the menu, I had a customer who I'll call Mr. Important.

Mr. Important was supposedly from California and a "connoisseur" of Greek food. He pulled me aside and told me that he expected VIP service because he and his guests were "very important people" (for reasons I cannot remember). Which is probably one of the dumbest things you can say to a tired, busy server.

So while pouring wine, Mr. Important announces that his party will have saganaki to start. I inform them that we're not offering saganaki tonight. His jaw dropped and he shouted, "You don't have saganaki?! How can you NOT have saganaki?! Danny Devito will NEVER come here if you don't have saganaki!"

It took a few seconds for this to sink in. It just didn't compute. Why would he blurt out such a thing? Moreover, I'm out in the middle of podunk nowhere Washington. The odds of me serving Danny Devito were about as high as my serving a party of leprechauns or Elvis.

Of course, being me, I informed Mr. Important of this, figuring my chances of a decent tip off this party had already long since crashed and burned. Mr. Important then took the matter to our head chef (directly to the kitchen) again invoking Danny Devito. During the height of our dinner rush, no less. Which of course went over marvelously.

Ah, the joys of being a server.

I never saw Mr. Important again and naturally, Danny Devito never stopped by.

All that lengthy blogging stuff aside, saganaki is soooo good. The combination of olive oil, brandy and fresh lemon juice is bliss.

You should make it, because if you don't Danny Devito will NEVER come over to your house for dinner.

This dish is best made with kefalograviera, kasseri, or kefalotyri cheeses. I made it with kasseri (my favorite) earlier but none of the photos turned out. So I made it again today with mozzarella (no more kasseri, sorry!), which is a less expensive, easily obtainable substitution. In fact, feel free to experiment with any number of firm cheeses that can withstand pan frying without melting into a puddle.

Not So Humble Saganaki:
four 3/4" slices of kasseri cheese
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
sea salt
olive oil
1 lemon quartered

warm pita bread

Combine the flour with the pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt. Dip the cheese slices into the egg and then thoroughly coat in flour.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan until it barely begins to smoke, then add the cheese. Cook until golden brown on each side, turning once.

Place the cheese into a serving dish, pouring a little of the hot olive oil on top. Pour approximately an ounce of brandy over the cheese and ignite. Extinguish with the juice of a lemon wedge. Serve immediately with pita to mop up the delicious mixture of olive oil, brandy and lemon juice.


  1. OPA! I love saganaki, but am afraid I would not have any eyebrows left if I were to make it at home. I order it in Greek restaurants regularly though, but never with Danny Devito. Great story!

  2. OPA is right, Amy! Coming from an AIr Force brat that used to live in Crete, I am so happy you posted this! When I started reading, I yelped with joy, which sent my dog into a tizzy and the cat running for cover. Thanks for making my night, Ms Humblicious! :)


  3. Your stories leave me with a huge smile on my face. Have you noticed how people who complain and make such a fuss arn't the real v.i.p.s, they just use other peoples success as a threat to get their own way. Just bags of wind, I wonder where they get it from?

  4. Thanks, Geoff!

    I don't think I'll ever figure that out.

    Remembering Mr. Important keeps me humble. After all I don't want some ex-waitress making fun of me on her blog ;)

  5. Customers can be such assholes to servers. IMO servers don't make enough for the crap they have to deal with.

    Anyway, the Saganaki (??? never heard of this before) looks yummy, and I'll have to try this sometime.

  6. Haha,thanks so much for sharing this story! It woudln't be as funny if you were not so good at writing. Serisoudly, your way with words is something :) Your blog is not just a food blg, but a great read too! Speaking, of Saganaki, I've never tried it, but would love too, as I have a thing for food made with alcohol - just aways feel like tasting it, even if I know it's not my thing lol Oh, and I've never met Danny Devito either. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised, taking that I've never tried saganaki hmmm :S

  7. I should write about some of my experiences as a flight attendant. Except, I'd probably get fired. And nobody likes plane food.

    I have never had Saganaki. I wonder if they serve it in Nagasaki? Probably not, and that's why Danny Devito never went there.

  8. I'm not sure I want an Italian American leprechaun in my house.

    So I may try this recipe, but keep it a secret...just in case!

    (I will try it...I love cheese too much not to!)

    Om nom nom

  9. I've seen this featured in some Greek restaurants and always wanted to try it, but just never did. Looks tasty. I might try it tonight has I have everything I need for it.

    That Danny DeVito story is hilarious. That kind of thing used to happen to me when I worked at a bakery in Tallahassee. People would come in expecting a certain bread or pie they loved to just BE there, and were all pissy, and threatened with random famous people not patronizing this place again...Like they ever did before?

  10. So, another thing to thank the Greeks for: melty fried cheese! Your story makes the food that much more interesting. Anyone who has to announce they're important, isn't. Danny DeVito wouldn't have to tell you, would he?

  11. If I were on a desert island and I could have only one thing, Saganaki would easily be a contender. What's better than hot, melted, brandy soaked cheese? nom nom nom. I think the hubbs should take me on a date tonight to our favorite taverna.....

  12. Ah, you've got to love the name droppers.
    My dad always told me that folks are the same across the globe, "they put their pants on one leg at a time"
    And, after looking at your amazing pics of the Saganaki, I am not so sure I would share with Mr. De Vito.

  13. Why do they say opa as they light this treat! We have a nice greek restaurant near here that serves it in Kingston. Haven't seen Danny nearby. The only celebrities around are usually Dan Akroyd and he doesn't look like he's really fussy about what he eats.

  14. hehehe... what a story.. did you ever figure the connection between the diner and Mr. DDV?

    I have to try this dish! never had it before.. sounds so simple..

    btw does the flambee add flavor or is that for jazz?

  15. I remember Mr. Important being a Californian restaurant owner/manager, or something of that sort. I'm assuming he serves Mr. DDV hot cheese day and night.

    Setting it on fire is mainly for show. Some people make Saganaki with ouzo or other forms high proof booze because you get a huge fire ball.

    I make it with brandy because it gives the dish the best flavor, even if it doesn't produce a huge flame.

    I still flambe it at home because it burns off most of the alcohol (I'm actually not a drinker, so I prefer it this way).

  16. Why do they say opa?

    I think some Chicago restaurant started the trend? I don't think it is a traditional or common thing to do in Greece. Perhaps someone will correct me and clear that point up.

    The place I worked, we didn't do the "OPA!" We were too fancy-pants.

  17. spazzo italian resturaunt in redmond makes a slight variation where they broil asiago sans breading then finish tableside with flamed brandy, oregano and lemon juice. served with freshbaked crusty bread, it's the only version i've had, but it's definitely life changing. i'm going to have to try this (more traditional?) version!! it sounds tasty, plus i never turn down an opportunity to catch myself on fire.

  18. I guess as a Chicagoan and a half-Greek person I should address the "Opa" phrasing. It is, in fact, a Greek phrase used in Greece and similar to "Ole" in Spain, I guess you could say. My grandmother threw the exclamation around like candy, though she was a perpetually sour person so I can only assume she meant it sarcastically in her case.

    Chicago is responsible for "Cheezeboorger cheezeboorger, Pepsi, no Coke" if anyone knows what that phrase is... :)

  19. So it took me three tries to make this dish without burning the cheese, but today I finally managed! It's good to know that I'm ready for Mr. Devito now :-)

  20. I just stumbled across this and you are SO funny! I think I will have to visit here again. After all, otherwise whatever would I serve if Danny Devito stopped by for a surprise dinner?


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