Once upon a time I thought I hated Greek food, I don’t like eggplant, so Massouka was out, growing up in Texas, I was not really used to the taste of lamb, dolmades were just, well different, and the desserts were too sweet. A Greek friend of mine thought this was outrageous. How could I claim to be a foodie, food fanatic, gourmet, cultured glutton, etc. if I did not like Greek food?!
He made it a priority to change my mind. I was invited to a wonderful meal where he made every dish from family recipes. We started with an incredible egg soup that had a strong lemon flavor; this was followed up with excellent home-made dolmades (delicate grape leaves filled with spiced rice) and finally a dish of beautifully aromatic rice, seasoned ground lamb and raisins. Home-made baklava was served for dessert.
Though I still find the desserts too sweet, I had obviously not been trying the right Greek restaurants.
Most Greek places in Austin still tend to be Gyro centric, and they are a great lunch option, but I recently tried the Athenian Restaurant at 6th and Congress and found in addition to the Gyros, a nice assortment of grilled Lamb, Fish and Chicken dishes plus a good list of appetizers, soups and salads. My dinner guest was also pleasantly surprised to find several vegetarian options.
I got there early, so for comparison sake, I tried the dolmades. They were nicely seasoned and were delicious with the tzatziki yogurt sauce.
The Athenian had the soup my Greek friend had made (Avgolemono); a rich chicken broth with a good amount of lemon and egg yolks for richness. A bit different from my friend’s, the soup here also had some orzo rice, parsley and a generous amount of chicken making for almost a full meal in a cup.
For the main course I ordered the Trio Kabob. (Souvlaki) This consisted of a skewer of marinated lamb, chicken and large fresh shrimp char-grilled and served over savory rice pilaf. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the shrimp had a great fresh flavor I normally associate with the coast. The deep grill flavor on the meats and vegetables was a very nice surprise. Served with the trio was; Greek hummus, more delicious tzatziki sauce and a good amount of nicely grilled pita bread to sop it all up.
At this point the cultured glutton in me couldn’t be happier, but our wine too was another nice surprise.
Our waiter Blake had recommended the Boutari Moscofilero. This is a wine from southern Greece (Matinina AOC) and is a popular choice at the restaurant. The Moscofilero grape produces a wine very similar to Sauvignon Blanc, big grapefruit notes, but more floral and with a bit more body. It is relatively inexpensive and very easy to drink. (The Boutari Winery was also awarded ‘European Winery of the Year’ in 2008)
We did finish with baklava, but only after some discussion with owner Anil Simicia. He shares my opinion of the sweetness on typical baklava and makes sure that theirs is less sweet.
The Athenian Grill’s space is modern Greek, clean lines if a bit spare, but the tables are well spaced and in cooler times of the year there is a beautiful outdoor patio.
With family always on the periphery and a busy urban street in front, you could be in any Greek restaurant in Montreal or Detroit. I think I am going to really enjoy coming back to this place.
The Athenian Bar & Grill gets very busy for lunch on week days, but check them out for an early dinner.
By Richard Arebalo
Austin Times Staff