Lush and luscious, the Greek food at Park Slope’s Athena Mediterranean Cuisine is truly a treat for the palate.
Eating there recently, on a cold winter night, having trudged through mounds of snow and ice, my companion and I were enveloped in the warmth of the Mediterranean upon entering the charming spot, a warmth that only grew as we enjoyed the staff’s hospitality (“From the time you walk in, you’re family,” contended proprietor Spiro Hiotis) and the truly exceptional cuisine.
We began our meal with Athena’s platter of traditional Mediterranean spreads, Krya Pikilia ($13.95). Our selection included basics such as creamy Hummus and refreshing Tzatziki, as well as a delightful spicy Feta spread, and Stuffed Grape Leaves that included raisins to create a sweet and sour flavor mix, as well as tangy Kalamata olives and Feta cheese. We shared the plate as a first course, but it could easily have been a meal in itself.
We also tasted the delightfully tart and lemony Avgolemono Soup ($4.95, cup; $6.95, bowl), pale yellow and studded with chicken bits and rice for quintessential comfort food, before moving on to the Spartan Combo ($16.95), which combines Pastitsio, Moussaka, Spinach Pie and Greek Salad and which is available as a vegetarian option, as well as with meat.
We tried both, and enjoyed the richness of the dishes, though Hiotis noted that the moussaka, for example, is lightened by baking the eggplant and potatoes, rather than deep frying them. The vegetarian Moussaka was a revelation – definitely a dish in which you do not miss the meat.
That came about because Hiotis recognized the importance of providing broader options for people with specific diets; he also offers gluten free options for customers who want them. “It’s very important to take care of your customer,” he emphasized.
Hiotis made sure we sampled his Chicken Mavrodaphne ($18.95), his take on a classic Chicken Marsala, but made with sweet Greek Mavrodaphne wine. It was rich and smooth, served appealingly ona bed of yellow rice.
Finally, we tasted two of Athena’s desserts – the Baklava ($5.95), which was cinnamon-inflected, not too sweet and topped with crumbs like a streusel, and the vanilla-scented Rum Caramel Raisin Bread Pudding ($6.95), which drew us in even though we had eaten plenty already.
Hiotis said he learned his cooking skills from his mother and grandmother. Having worked in other people’s restaurants, he opened Athena eight years ago to serve up food that “makes people happy.”
For that reason, Hiotis said, he is constantly changing up the menu, keeping favorite dishes and adding new ones, often riffs on traditional dishes. He also has a lively specials menu.
While the basic menu is Greek or Greek-inspired, many of the specials, Hiotis stressed, borrow inspiration from other cuisines of the region, to keep regular customers coming back, as does the fact that the eatery will prepare special requests, given a day’s advance notice.
“We are more than just our menu,” he added.
ATHENA MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
535 Sixth Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Sunday-Thursday, 12-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 12-11 p.m.
Free delivery, Second Avenue to Coney Island Avenue, and 36th Street to Atlantic Avenue.