Best Bets: Moussaka

A thick layer of béchamel sauce tops the moussaka at Jim's Place East.

Photo by Michael Donahue, MIchael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

A thick layer of béchamel sauce tops the moussaka at Jim's Place East.

I remember buying Greek retsina wine when I'd go out to eat at Greek restaurants in the 1970s and early '80s. Maybe the retsina, which has pine resin in it, deadened my taste buds at those dinners because I don't remember liking moussaka -- also known as "eggplant casserole" -- very much. But I loved it when I tried it the other day at Jim's Place East.

Costa Taras, co-owner of the restaurant with his son, Bill, described it as "Greek lasagna." It's sliced, roasted eggplant layered with spiced ground beef and creamy béchamel sauce. Other ingredients include onion, parsley, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese and a cinnamon stick.

The top layer looks, has the same consistency and tastes a bit like mashed potatoes, but it's actually the béchamel sauce, which is made of milk, butter, flour, eggs, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Their moussaka "was my mother's recipe," Taras said.

Moussaka is one of the main dishes in Greece, he said. The others are pastitsio, which consists of layers of seasoned ground beef, béchamel sauce and elbow macaroni; and spanakopita, which is phyllo pastry filled with chopped spinach, feta cheese, eggs, onions, scallions and seasonings.

His mother, the late Bessie Taras, and his father, the late Bill Taras, both cooked. "My father liked cooking Greek food."

They ate moussaka, but it wasn't a special-occasion food. "The big holiday is Easter," Taras said. That's when they'd have lamb, spanakopita and homemade bread. His father would roast two or more lambs on a spit outdoors.

Moussaka is served at lunch ($11.50) and dinner ($15.95) at Jim's Place East. My lunch portion was huge. I ordered it with the congealed asparagus salad and some of their baklava, both of which are made in house.

Jim's Place East is at 518 Perkins Ext.; (901) 766-2030.

-- Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797;

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