I’ve been eating at Athens retaurant since I could eat solid food, my parents have been eating there since it opened a few decades ago, my grandparents ate there and basically refused to go anywhere else, and I have a picture of myself with marinara all over my face at age 3 or so to prove it all. So needless to say, I am biased. But in terms of quality and portions, Athens easily dominates the competition, not that there’s much.
Greek food as we know it is really Greek-American restaurant food, complete with the ubiquitous mainstays (think spanikopita, moussaka, gyros, tzatziki.) In some places (Manhattan), one can find upscale Greek food, which is probably more upscale and less Greek than it would be willing to admit. In Astoria, Queens, arguably nyc’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, one can find a variety of good, authentic restaurants often specializing in a certain style or region. Check out this nytimes review:
Apart from what can be found in Astoria, these styles are just a distant cousin of “real” greek cuisine, which like it’s Italian cousin does vary from isle to isle, from city to city, and from kitchen to kitchen, and which is much more complex than its interpretation in the American restaurant. Imagine, twenty years ago, most Americans would have thought that spaghetti with marinara defined Italian cuisine. Now people are more and more familiar with regional variation in Italy’s food (we basically know the difference between almost North African Sicilian food and the more continental Milanese and Florentine cuisine, etc). After visiting Santorini and Athens somewhat recently, I really hope that the complexity and dynamism of Greek cuisine becomes known here soon. (In the past year or two very high quality greek extra virgin olive oils and excellent wines from the isles and mainland have become available.) As an aside, I believe that Italy has always been the undeserving star of southern europe’s gourmet food exports, but this merits another discussion altogether.
Back to the point of this post, I think that Athens succeeds at providing solid greek restaurant fare and helps to fill what i see as a serious lack in the Charleston dining scene of good, middle priced restaurants. I really like the greek roasted chicken dish with delicate, lemony potatoes, the mezes platter, and basically any of the other old standards. Also, the lunch is a great value at under $10 and can be enjoyed al-fresco in the warmer months. I think part of Athens success is owed to the constant presence of its owners, the Koutsiganakis brothers, and their very level approach. Since the big move from the previous location, one can see their vision beginning to pan out in what has obviously been well and long planned. While Abu has some beef with Athens’ Cafe’s take out policies, it remains and old stand-by for me and my people.
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