Athenian Bar & Grill
Recenty reopened on Sixth Street, Athenian Bar & Grill serves great Greek food at a reasonable price
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Dec. 19, 2008
Athenian Bar & Grill600 Congress, 474-7775
When Athenian Grill lost its lease in June 2007 and shut down at its small spot on Colorado Street, herds of Downtown diners were crying the blues. Rumors circulated about a reopening, and last summer Athenian Bar & Grill reopened on Sixth Street, on the ground floor of One American Center. The space is much larger and more upscale and has a charming patio for alfresco dining or drinking. Owner/chef Anil Simicia runs the operation with his parents and a helpful crew. The lunch menu is served cafeteria-style, while dinner service is provided by a waitstaff.
Lines at peak lunchtime can be long, but they move quickly. Happy hour runs through the week from 4 to 7pm (and all day on Wednesday) with $5 drink and food specials and bottles of Greek wine for $9.99 at the bar and on the patio. Friday and Saturday nights feature live Greek music.
Prices have inched up a tad with the reopening, but portions are huge; you definitely get your money's worth, and many plates can be comfortably shared. We've tried a number of delectable items from the lunch menu. The Combo Plate ($10.39 lunch/$15 dinner) comes with gyro and chicken, rice pilaf, Greek salad, spanakopita, tzatziki, and flat bread. Both meats are moist, juicy, and flavorful; the lamb-beef gyro is full-flavored and the chicken nice and caramelized. The meats can also be ordered as sandwiches. The rice pilaf has peas, slivered almonds, and a rich chicken flavor. The salad is crisp and loaded with tangy feta. Athenian's spanakopita is the best in town: a flaky, thin crust with a plump filling of spinach and feta lightly kissed with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. The tzatziki is wonderful, made with thick yogurt, garlic, lemon, and just enough cucumber to complement the flavor.
The moussaka ($10.39/$16) is served with avgolemono and steamed vegetables. It's a large rectangle with a nicely spiced ground-beef mixture (tomato sauce, cinnamon, oregano, parsley, mint), topped with thin layers of potato and eggplant and covered with a golden brown béchamel and crumbled cheese. It could only be better if it were ground lamb instead. The chicken, lemon, and rice dish is loaded with meat, vegetables, and rice – good, but better if it had a little more egg yolk for richness. The mountain of sweet broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots is dressed simply with some olive oil and garlic.
The grape leaves ($1.50) are nice, overstuffed with rice and seasoned ground beef and served with tzatziki. Keftede ($1.75) is a meatball slightly smaller than a tennis ball, swimming in a pool of savory tomato sauce with onion and garlic. It has a light texture and a wonderful flavor. The hummus ($2.50) has a pleasing balance of garbanzos, olive oil, tahini, lemon, and garlic – a very respectable version. The Athenian Chicken Salad ($9.93/$11.93) is a monster. The base is crisp romaine, with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and olives, topped with lots of the gyro grilled chicken and a dressing of tzatziki with feta. The Greek Village Salad is also available ($9.47/$11.47), made of tomato wedges, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion, feta, and olives and dressed with olive oil, garlic, and lemon.
At night, the lunch items get a bit larger and are joined by some more sophisticated entrées. We've had the souvlaki lamb kebab ($16) and loved it. A large juicy skewer of marinated lamb chunks are perfectly caramelized and cooked to medium or medium rare, with a sprinkling of Greek spices. Excellent served with the pilaf and tzatziki sauce. Other options are lamb chops, sea bass, sea bass and shrimp skewers, mixed grill, a sauté of chicken and spinach, and a chicken pasta sauté, ranging from $15 to $19. We'll be trying those in the future.
Desserts include a galatoboureko ($4.50), a lemony semolina custard in a phyllo shell with a lemon syrup; cheesecake ($4.50); and baklava ($2.99). We've only had the baklava and absolutely loved it. Unlike the normal honey-drenched glob that you usually find, this one has a thin, flaky phyllo crust surrounding a thick, rich, chopped filling of walnuts and pecans, all dressed with a light honey-cinnamon syrup.
Anil Simicia started out with Zorba in Round Rock, then moved Downtown to become the too-small Athenian Grill, which has now blossomed into Athenian Bar & Grill, complete with wine list and a full range of cocktails and beers (including Firemans 4 on tap). We love the progression and must say we love Simicia's authentic Greek food. We will be returning.
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