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Review: Santa Lucia serving up good food with real class

Feta baked in a filo crust and drizzled with honey ($10.95) has no hint of sogginess. Eric Daeuber / The Forum 1 / 5
The atmosphere at Santa Lucia mixes gentle, over-the-top Greek sculptures and Doric décor with urbane clamshell booths and carnival lighting. Eric Daeuber / The Forum2 / 5
Garides ($19.95) is a sautéed shrimp dish prepared with feta and artichokes and served with roasted peppers and black olives. Eric Daeuber / The Forum3 / 5
The sides included in the gyro platter ($14.95) surprisingly stand out: crisp broccoli slightly crisp, squash with a bite and Greek potatoes that hold their shape. Eric Daeuber / The Forum4 / 5
The avgolemono soup ($4.95) is an interesting creamed potato dish enjoyed by using the lemon to bring out the bite of pepper. Eric Daeuber / The Forum 5 / 5

Years ago, Santa Lucia was serving up souvlaki and dolmades for the common folk as the one place where the culinary term "ethnic" had real meaning.

Today, Fargo and Moorhead are home to dining diversity that covers most corners of the globe, and Santa Lucia has taken on an air of sophistication that reaches from fresh grilled vegetables, to the friendly but not-too-familiar servers and makes its way through an atmosphere that mixes gentle, over-the-top Greek sculptures and Doric décor with urbane clamshell booths and carnival lighting. It's fun, but comfortable and carries an air of special occasion celebration.

And the food is very, very good. Ingredients are fresh and speak to Greek tastes in a pop sort of way with feta, honey, filo, black olives, orzo and oregano.

The first three come together in an appetizer with feta baked in a filo crust and drizzled with honey ($10.95), large for an appetizer and only a little short of the proper melting point for a top-end starter. Not a hint of sogginess or a blackened filo flake.

As a second course, the avgolemono soup ($4.95) brings a creamed potato dish with enough texture to keep it interesting and a slice of lemon that should be used and not treated as garnish in order to bring that bite of pepper that brings the potato, not the rice, up front.

These types of starters are challenging given the importance of temperature and texture, but everything comes into its own in entrees in which preparation and not presentation makes them stand out.

Garides ($19.95) is a sautéed shrimp dish prepared with feta and artichokes and served with roasted peppers and black olives. The shrimp is done to just the good side of pink ,and the garlic — easily prone to overpowering subtle flavors like feta and artichoke — takes its place as a sweetener rather than a spice.

The same care is present in the gyro platter ($14.95) where the sides, easily sidelined in a standard Mediterranean dish like this, stand out: broccoli slightly crisp, squash a little north of soft and Greek potatoes that hold their shape. The point here is that these two dishes, easily tossed together with nothing to distinguish the bits and pieces from each other, instead take each element with the seriousness it demands.

The wine list is basic but complete, and it doesn't hurt to err on the fun side and take your meal with sangria ($6.95) or a spritzer ($5.95) instead of wine. Skip the spritzer flavors and take your wine with soda, in my case a nice Muscat a step up from Asti, at least so it seemed.

Dessert was a passable, enormous piece of tiramisu, a little short on the alcohol and with chocolate sauce too close to Hershey's for comfort, but with pleasant cheese cream and substantial ladyfingers.

I don't believe that anyone is ignoring Santa Lucia. The restaurant seems busy and clearly holds its own in the new gastro pub spendy-beer-and-prettified-burger trajectory of Fargo dining.

But its longevity — and our tendency to flock to the latest version of the $9 a glass watering hole — may have sent it to the less travelled parts on your list of dining options.

If that's the case, it doesn't belong there. It's a traditional casual-chic eatery with good food, good people and real class.

Santa Lucia Restaurante & Pizzeria

Address: 1109 38th Street South Fargo,

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Food: 3.5 stars

Service: 4 stars

Ambiance: 3.5 stars

Dining details

Hours: Sunday to Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Phone: (701) 281-8656

Reservations accepted: Yes

Alcohol: Yes

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

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