When someone mentions Greek sweets and baked goods, nine times out of ten your mind will go straight to baklava. And there's no shame in that! The sticky, sweet, nutty and flaky dessert puts a smile on everyone's face. But there's more to Greek bakeries than baklava. Much more.
Houston may not be home to many bakeries specializing in Greek baked goods, but the Bayou City is home to several Greek restaurants that serve a variety of Hellenic sweets and treats. So, without further ado, here are the top five places to find Greek baked goods in Houston.
5. Café Pita +
While the baklava at this restaurant is subpar on its own, the main draw is the baklava cheesecake. Whoever thought to top a classic cheesecake with baklava is a genius (and probably not a health nut). Because cheesecake is not good enough by itself, just top it with a sticky, nutty and flaky slice of baklava. Honey oozes out of the pastry, blending perfectly with the creamy cheesecake and graham cracker crust. No, Café Pita isn't the best place for Greek baked goods, but the baklava cheesecake makes up for its lack of options.
You may go to Harry's for breakfast, but I go to Harry's for the baklava and Greek cookies. Owner Johnny Platsas greets you at the door and instantly makes you feel welcomed, as though you've entered his home. Ask him which desserts are available and he'll take care of you -- even if the one you want isn't in the display case. Baklava is served as flutes for events and as a slab of flaky pastries layered with walnuts, honey and butter for sale in the restaurant. One bite of Harry's baklava and you're sent straight to Athens. The tender, buttery pastry and warm, rich honey will satisfy your sugar intake for a month, but that won't stop you from finishing the piece -- it's that good. Each dessert, including the rice pudding, melomakarona and kourabiethes (Greek cookies), is made daily, so everything is fresh.
3. Niko Niko's
While the gyros, souvlaki and falafels are usually the draw at Niko Niko's, the authentic Greek pastries and desserts are what keeps customers there after their main meal. Once you order your lunch or dinner and walk past the case of baklava, loukoumades, kourambiedes (wedding cookies) and Athenian mud pie, you can't help but order one or a few of these sweets. Note: You don't have to wait in the endless lunch line if you want the sweets only! Each order of baklava is covered in an extra dose of warm honey (because it isn't sweet enough). Although baklava is a classic choice, the best dessert is an order of loukoumades (Greek honey balls). These warm dough balls are fried and soaked in honey. Pop one in your mouth and feel the burst of warm honey ooze from the dough.
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Cases of baked goods and savory options line the walls of this quaint restaurant and bakery. At first you may be overwhelmed by the choices, but take a gamble and order a few of the $1 or $2 desserts. The baklava is flaky, sweet and exactly what you would expect, as are the classic maamoul cookies, which are filled with pistachios. Abdallah's also makes nammoura, which is a Lebanese semolina cake soaked in a sugar syrup; it's similar to a sponge cake, but the honey and citrus ingredients give it a nice sweet tang. While all of these desserts look beautiful and taste incredible, spend the extra 75 cents for the bird's nest. Shredded kataifi dough is mixed with melted butter, sugary syrup and chopped pistachios and walnuts, all packed tightly to resemble a bird's nest. Shelled pistachios are then placed on top as the eggs. It's almost too pretty to eat, but once you take a bite you won't care about ruining the presentation.
Not only does Phoenicia specialize in savory Greek favorites like lamb shawarma, marinated feta cheese and pita wraps, but the grocery store also has an incredible selection of Greek baked goods. For something over-the-top sweet, order one of the fried doughnut rings drenched in honey -- it's a sweet twist on the classic loukoumades. Or try one of the many baklava flavors -- chocolate, walnut, Turkish (walnuts and citrus blossom syrup), Sha'abiet (light cream center) and Armenian (apples, pears and cinnamon). While the honey-filled baklava may be too sugary to eat in one try, the baklava fingers -- studded with crushed pistachios -- are small enough to not put you into a sugar coma.
If you're in the mood for something other than baklava, try one of the maamoul cookies. Maamoul is a slightly sweet butter cookie filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts; the wedding cookies covered in powdered sugar are so delicate that they crumble in your mouth the second you take a bite.