The unassuming OPA on River Street in Coolidge Park. (Photo: Staff)

What is Date Night Dining?
In a nutshell, this column is all about food in Chattanooga. I will take people out for dinner and lunch dates at various restaurants in the Chattanooga region. It is not meant to be a review per se, but an account of a one-time experience at a restaurant.

For this week’s column, I met up for a blind date with local realtor/business owner Tristin Chiafullo (find her on Twitter). She sent me a rather long email waxing about OPA on River Street. Last week, we met up there for some good conversation and late afternoon mediterranean gluttony.

The restaurant
Blink and you’ll miss it. The tiny, white building-located directly behind the North Chatt Cat-appears completely out of place with the surrounding parking lots and buildings. I arrived early like I always do and assessed the situation. The interior has an oceanic feel with only a few tables. Outside, the back patio has potential but it appears underused. Every wall is a sandblasted, off-white color and the bright-colored furniture (blues, pinks and yellows) really pop. Tristin, a beautiful and sassy brunette, arrived and we started perusing the surprisingly extensive menu. Owner Mihail (Michael) prepares everything fresh to order from scratch. This means that the menu often changes by vegetable and meat availability. But if there ever was a restaurant that made you just want to say “bring me all the things,” OPA is it. We ordered a freshly brewed iced tea and a variety of souvlaki pitas, a greek salad, dolmades and dessert before heading outside to soak in the sun. This was going to be a VERY good meal.

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Dolmades, pita and hummus. Absolutely delicious. (Photo: staff)

What is OPA?
During our several conversations, Michael explained to me his philosophy on food service. First, “if you don’t like, you don’t pay,” he said. Secondly, the term “opa” is a Greek word to describe the feelings of love expressed when sharing a meal. Michael is easily the most passionate and endearing restaurant owner I’ve come across in town. This “opa” permeates throughout the entire building and, inevitably, to the customers. You’ll see what I mean.

Appetizer
Tristin and I talked about life, work and mutual friends. The food just kept arriving in front of us. The first offering was a plate of dolmades (stuffed grape leaf rolls) with homemade hummus and pita bread. My deceased grandmother (a Syrian) would make these whenever I would visit her Arizona home as a child. A dolmade has a sort of sourness that could also be describe as “fresh tasting.” Michael’s hummus is heavy on the tahini and probably the best I’ve ever had. You are served enough pita bread for 10 people and you’ll want to eat every bit. The lines are going to blur a bit between appetizers and what not because we considered the entire meal as a single entity. A greek salad was served and I’ve never had better tasting tomatoes than the ones I put into my mouth that day. I’m serious. Tristin agreed: “The tomatoes were the most ripe, sweet and succulent tomatoes I’d ever had,” she said. “Mixed with the crisp, refreshing cucumbers, strips of Greek feta that gave the salad the perfect salty, creamy bite complementing all other components.” And I completely agree. But we were just getting started.

Look at those potatoes. A lunch of a champion with the vegetarian pita. (Photo: Staff)

Souvlaki
We each ordered a souvlaki pita. I got the vegetarian (because I wanted Tristin to think I was healthy?) and she ordered the chicken variety. The outside seating was the perfect place to shout at passers-by about how amazing the food was. People would stop, stare and keep walking. Only a few customers stopped by during our dinner. Anyway, the souvlakis are large pitas topped with a sort of an assortment of fresh vegetables, including those divine tomatoes. The sides should be noted as well. Simply peeled, boiled potatoes with olive oil and Michael’s house made tzatziki. Again, this was beyond fresh and the potatoes tasted like, well, potatoes. Tristin enjoyed her chicken pita, though we were both beyond full at this point. And yet, dessert.

A delicious chicken souvlaki pita. (Photo; Staff)

Dessert
Baklava and chocolate cake were on the menu for the day. Instead of having to make a decision, Michael gave us two desserts split in half so we each could try. The baklava-with filo dough, honey and nuts-was my kind of sweet. But the chocolate cake was the big winner of the two. You expect it to be sickeningly sweet, but it’s not. Both the cake and icing are bitter sweet with hints of dark roasted coffee. I imagine both desserts would pair well with a cup. Highly recommended.

Michael’s chocolate cake topped with baklava. (Photo: Staff)

Would I (we) go back?
Tristin and I consumed more food than I would suggest consuming. Our bill was still only $50 before tip. As mentioned, we were gluttons but one need not be at OPA. A simple greek salad or a plate of dolmades is the perfect lunch. In our opinion, OPA makes the perfect spot for a casual date. Tristin said “it’s like having a personal chef serving the most authentic Greek cuisine in a seemingly authentic setting.” We will be back. Let Michael be your guide. Trust him and be impressed.

Take me on a date
No, you don’t have to have sex with me. That’s not what I’m proposing. What I’m suggesting is that readers of this column invite me to a dinner (I’ll pay) at some of their favorite restaurants in the region. Have a favorite lambchop in Harrison that nobody knows about? Take me there. Know where to get the best plate of mush? Take me there. Where can I get the best hot ham n’ cheese? Take me there. If you enjoy it-and think other people might, too-invite me out. Email me at[email protected].This experience could be weird, awkward and amazing. And you don’t have to be a hot babe; I’ll dine with burly dudes, too. Let’s be adventurous.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, notNooga.comor its employees.

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