Athena's Market Café
Have a big, fat Greek dinner
Remember the restaurant family dinners of your childhood? You wanted soda, you got milk, your brother made weird noises, you got blamed. You got your choice of the kids' meal trifecta: pizza, chicken fingers, or macaroni and cheese. Auntie had a few glasses of wine, uncle smoked those fat, smelly cigars, and mom and dad were so busy talking that you could get away with kicking your brother under the table—the first two times, at least.
Athena's Market Café has a family-friendly atmosphere, but, excluding their north Wyoming stripmall exterior, it's in a markedly different way; not to mention wallet-friendly prices and an assortment of authentic sweets that could make any kid want to behave.
I dined at the café after the lunchtime rush when the staff was enjoying a breather from the lemon-chicken stampede. It was easy to notice the extra touches that were designed with the weary parent in mind. There's an entire shelf of magazines and a couple of Mr. Potato Head dolls with all the gear, just enough distraction for the nibblers to let the grownups alone for a while.
With relaxation under control, the menu speaks a thousand tasty words about why small, local restaurants have such a loyal following. The appetizers here are straightforward Mediterranean classics like hummus and pita, baba ghanouj and dolmas, and the price tag is considerably cheaper than a night with the family at Chili FriBeeGan's.
The most expensive dish on the menu is the moussaka, a casserole layered with eggplant, meat sauce and potatoes, at $10.49. Traditional meat-in-pita gyros are only $5.40 and a plump souvlaki (similar to a kebab) is just $5.65. I was brought in by the house special, the baked lemon-chicken ($7.95), though I was warned the lunch crowd had completely cleaned them out of white meat, and all they had left was dark. I'm a huge fan of dark meat (it has vastly more flavor), and so all was well.
The chicken was rich and coated with spices and broiled with the skin on, making it extra moist. I had a side of fluffy rice pilaf and also a cold, crisp lettuce salad with plum tomatoes, olives and a generous sprinkling of feta cheese.
Choosing an entrée was no easy task here. I was torn between what I ended up ordering and several others that got away, like the patstitsio (pasta smothered with meat and cheese sauce and topped with béchamel sauce) and their thick-cut moussaka.
Homemade desserts are always a welcome treat, especially when I'm not the one making them. The full pastry case at Athena's is filled with delicacies like baklava, kourabiethes (think Mexican wedding cookies with almonds) and daily specials like the one I was treated to, oatmeal chocolate peanut butter bars; "a mere $.50," the sign read, and worth every penny and more.
As is the nature of many small restaurants, shelves line Athena's walls with a modest selection of imported merchandise for sale. Rare finds include naturally cured and aged Tarama carp roe caviar, as well as ready-made sweets like bougatsa, (a cream-filled pastry with cinnamon-sugar) and millefeuille (a Napoleon cake with orange filling).
The idea of eating out with your family may evoke memories of the good, the bad and the occasional brother-kicking incident, but establishments like Athena's make us remember why mom 'n' pop places are so good. After all, these businesses are made up of families themselves. They understand that our lives may be busy, but having a nice, hot meal with our families shouldn't be difficult. And who knows? If we treat 'em right, maybe someday Athena's will open a daycare next door.