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Dino’s Greek Food Truck flavors up The Block — Petaluma

Many restaurants dabble in the flavors of Greece, but Sonoma County’s only all-Greek “restaurant” is actually a food truck that now calls The Block – Petaluma its permanent home.

Konstandinos “Dino” Moniodis not only has a name right off of the Greek isles, but also the street credibility to bring Sonoma County diners the authentic flavors he has always enjoyed while staying and working alongside his father’s family on the Greek island of Chois.

Dino’s Greek Food Truck

Where: The Block — Petaluma; 20 Grey St.

Hours: Open Thursday through Sunday.

More info: dinosgreekfood.com

Call to place orders: 799-9706

Dino’s father, Dimitri Muniodis, grew up in Greece, where he earned the nickname “Zimi” (“dough” in Greek), because at a very young age, he worked in the village bakery. In his mid-teens, he joined the merchant marines and eventually ended up in Santa Cruz, California, where Dino was born. When Dino was 6 years old, Dimitri moved the family to Santa Rosa, where Dino would go on to graduate from Montgomery High before attending culinary school.

Throughout Dino’s youth, Dimitri took his son back to Greece every summer to stay connected with the culture, his extended family and, of course, the great food.

“Dad was from a village called Lithi, on the island of Chios,” Dino said. Chios lays due east from Athens, across the Aegean Sea, and sits just 3 or 4 miles west of the Turkish coast. A quick internet image search of the island of Chios will have you wondering why anyone would ever leave. It appears to be the quintessential Mediterranean island paradise, and Dino says that the food is as a good as the view. Dino’s business logo is even the outline of the island of Chios.

“Partway through the summer I would always run out of money,” remembered Dino. “When I was old enough, my dad suggested that I work at one of my many cousins’ many tavernas, which are the small family-run restaurants you find throughout Greece’s villages.”

One of Dino’s first jobs was working the grill station at age 14, but he eventually helped with all aspects of the restaurant, even venturing out on the fishing boats to bring in the daily catch. “I always loved the food, but working in the tavernas alongside family, serving the locals, gave me so much more of an appreciation for what goes into making good, clean, healthy food,” he said.

Back in the US, Dino attended the Santa Rosa Junior College culinary program, where he made a lot of local connections and added some additionally culinary techniques and skills to his strong Greek foundation. Dino moved on to work catering for Stark’s Steak & Seafood before joining the kitchen of sister restaurant Willie’s Wine Bar for three years. He also helped convert Equus into a steakhouse, well before it, along with its host Fountain Grove Inn, burned to the ground in the 2017 Tubbs fire.

Throughout his time in Sonoma County, Dino’s family stayed connected to their Greek traditions with weekly visits to Papa’s Taverna, a local Petaluma favorite out at Gilardi’s Marina on Lakeville Highway, until it shut down in late 2012.

“We used to go every Friday night to enjoy the food, the music and the dancing,” said Dino. “That was the closest thing to our tavernas in Greece and really helped to strengthen my love of Greek food and culture here in the US.”

Dino returned to Petaluma to help open Slam Burger, a farm-to-table burger concept that lasted for roughly a year downtown, next to Sugo Trattoria.

“It was a great experience,” Dino said. “I learned to open a restaurant from the ground up, and in only three months.”

The owner and Dino had a difference of opinion regarding the focus of the restaurant, however. After Slam Burger, Dino was the chef at Brannan’s Grill in Calistoga before moving over to their sister restaurant, a pizza joint called Checker’s. This last stop was key to Dino’s appreciation and understanding of what it takes to create great pizzas.

Roughly three years ago, Dino’s father was diagnosed with cancer, so Dino dropped everything to take care of Dimitri. In Greece, this is how things are done.

“He was given six months, but made it almost two years,” Dino said. Enjoying meals from his homeland, prepared by his own son, must have given Dimitri great comfort and satisfaction during his final days.

“The week he passed, I started Dino’s Greek Food Truck,” said Dino. “I had been talking about a food truck for six or seven years, but dad’s sickness inspired me. I wanted him to see it happen.”

That was in the summer of 2019 and even through the pandemic, Dino’s has been carrying on Dimitri’s legacy and gaining fans wherever the food truck parks.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” Dino said with a laugh. “There were some days when I only had two or three orders.”

Sonoma County is not particularly friendly to food trucks, but Dino finally found his niche when he started making the local brewery rounds.

“That was more my clientele. Relaxing with good drinks and good food is what Greek street food is all about,” he said.

Petalumans were certainly excited when Dino’s Greek Food Truck started making regular Saturday appearances at the Block - Petaluma last year and have been raving about his food ever since. Due to the positive response from diners, Dino’s is now a permanent fixture at the Block and Dino is even expanding to take over the wood-fired pizza restaurant that was always there, but had yet to reach its full potential.

“My goal is to bring those memories and flavors of Greece to my customers,” said Dino. “On the islands, it’s mostly small villages, which is where you find the most traditional food. I am trying to keep my menu authentic, like the tavernas I grew up working in and eating at. It’s relaxed and the experience always carries with it a sense of community.”

As a kid, Dino’s favorites were the moussaka, kind of a Greek quiche or lasagna, only without the pasta; and spanakopita, which is a savory spinach pie, of sorts. As he got older, Dino developed a deep appreciation for souvlaki.

“It’s various kinds of meat skewers and is an extremely popular street food in Greece,” said Dino. “However, today, when I go back to visit, the main thing I want is just straight up grilled whole fish. It is simple but so satisfying.”

We rarely see dishes like that here in the US, as we tend to plate everything as a complete entrée, but in Europe, guests are often served simpler dishes, like grilled fish, and then given the freedom to mix flavors as they wish by combining each forkful with the other dishes on the table to create incredible bites.

Another Greek tradition is known as “meze” and is the Greek’s version of tapas.

“Often, the restaurants wouldn’t even have a menu,” Dino revealed. “Instead, you just ask what’s available, and that’s what you are having for dinner.”

But fear not, we have always found this to be a great way to dine throughout Europe as it is a great way to enjoy each locales’ seasonal specialties and experience each chef’s creativity.

On a recent sunny afternoon, we ordered up a good portion of Dino’s menu for take-out. From souvlaki plates to gyros to falafels, plus plenty of sides, we found everything to taste fresh and vibrant, especially when enhanced by the provided additions such as kalamata olives, pickles onions and feta cheese. The pork and chicken both have excellent seasoning, but it is the flavor and the texture of the lamb that turned me into an immediate fan. If you are stopping into the Block for a beer or two, the Lamb Fries are a must.

Dino’s house-cured pickled onions are excellent and made it onto every dish we tried. His hot sauce has a solid long lasting spiciness but stops shy of being overpowering.

“I love tart flavors,” admitted Dino. “From fermented veggies to feta cheese, it all goes so well with the other Greek flavors.”

We also had the hummus plate, which comes with incredible pita bread with a special blend of cinnamon and nutmeg and is topped with red wine vinegar, Greek oregano and paprika salt. This came with a unique and delicious beet hummus.

“Just like baklava, nobody really knows the origins of hummus, however it’s much more popular here in the US than Greece,” Dino reveals. “We wanted to do something different with ours, so along with tahini and lemon juice, like most, we added beets to give it some sweetness and color.”

In discussing Dino’s fantastic falafels, which are generally a mixture of chickpeas, herbs and spices, he revealed that like hummus, this is not common in Greek cuisine.

“However, I wanted to give non-meat eaters some options,” Dino said.

This meat eater was as impressed with this dish as any, in large part because it was lighter and moister than the falafels I have been forced to try in the past. This is something we will surely order again during future visits to Dino’s.

Although usually associated with the French, beignets actually trace their roots to Greece, where they are called loukoumades. These small doughy bites drizzled with honey syrup and candied walnuts (also known as “honey tokens”) were once offered to victorious athletes at the ancient Olympic Games. I have had the honor of wearing a friend’s Olympic medal and might have strived for more of an athletic career had I been offered a few handfuls of these tasty treats.

Along with his new permanent food truck spot at the Block, Dino is also revamping and relaunching the Block’s pizza joint under the name Zimi’s Pizza, which they hope to open in April. The name Zimi is both to honor the pizza’s primary ingredient and as an homage to Dino’s father.

Helping to run the front of house at both operations is Sarah Kenney, Dino’s fiancé and business partner. The two met through a mutual love of Greek food. “She showed up one day at the truck and ordered several dishes,” Dino said. “When I saw her enjoying them all while sitting on the tailgate of her truck and I knew I had to ask her out. We have been partners ever since.”

Instead of your average, often burnt, wood-fired pizza, Dino and Sarah plan to bring diners a higher-level Neapolitan pizzas. Dino has a background in pizza, which certainly helps, but also puts care into everything he makes.

“We are going to use a five-day sourdough starter, and will make all our smoked mozzarella in-house,” said Dino with pride. “People often overlook the diversity that a wood-fired oven can bring to a kitchen.”

Once up and running, Dino plans to offer great hand-crafted pizza, as well as other wood-fired menu items, so long as customers are interested. “I can’t wait to offer smoked lamb chops and am working with a supplier to do smoked Monterey sardines.”

Fish is something that Greeks know well and after several trips to Europe, where we have enjoyed a dozen iterations of sardines, we are looking forward to trying this specialty.

“The biggest thing we want to do is give people a real Greek experience,” says Dino. Dino’s website explains, “I am driven by the idea of Philoxenia-(φιλοξενια), which is the art of making a stranger a friend. This idea drives my efforts to make food fit for the gods with the loving embrace and hospitality of a traditional Greek home.”

He said, “Now that we are up and running, we are trying to work with a local supplier to get more Greek things, like real Greek sodas.” Currently, Dino’s offers a Greek Frappé, made with Nescafe imported from Greece. This drink is the Greek version of iced coffee and everyone’s individual preparation is said to say something about who they are.

“It tastes so Greek to me,” said Dino with a smile. “The first thing I order when I get off the airplane in Greece is a Frappé.”

Call it a cliché, but there is nothing mundane about the Greeks, and their food is no exception. Dino and Sarah aim to offer not only great Greek cuisine but hope to expose guests to a little Greek culture as well. To that end, Dino already has plans for a Greek Easter celebration, which in Greece is the biggest holiday of the year.

“We’ll be cooking up Greek goodies, and doing Greek Easter giveaways,” said Dino.

Call it a food truck if you must, but after tasting Dino’s great food and learning about his deep connection to his family heritage, I think of Dino’s more as an authentic Greek taverna, on wheels.

Dino’s Greek Food Truck is currently open at the Block – Petaluma (20 Grey St.) Thursdays and Fridays for dinner, Saturdays for lunch and dinner and Sundays for lunch. Check dinosgreekfood.com and Dino’s social media pages for current hours, menus and upcoming specials. Pre-orders can be placed and paid for by phone at 799-9706 for those that prefer to grab and go.

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