The first thing you’ll notice when you saunter in are the fabulous touches Spiro has added to the place, on the corner of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, since he opened it in January 2009. For one thing, the tabletops are set to make a fabulous first impression: from the looks of things, one guesses that one is in for a four-star dining experience.
Next you’ll notice the fireplace, centered on the back wall of the room — and while you might not want to sit near a hearth this time of year, don’t worry, it’s only ornamental.
And don’t fear that a large and boisterous cocktail crowd will interupt your dining experience — while the bar has been beautifully designed and ornamented, Athena does not serve alcohol.
Young and vivacious, the waitstaff is also something to behold. We were treated like royalty by Jessica, who graciously sat us at the best seat available — far enough away from the double-birthday party taking place near the fireplace to not interrupt it, but close enough to feel as if we were a small part of the festivities.
We passed on the bottled mineral water, instead opting for New York’s finest, surrounded amply by cubes of coldness — and were immediately — and consistently — refreshed.
A quick browse at the menu revealed many things unexpected — first of which being that, despite the name, this is no sterotypical “Greek” restaurant. (Athena is, in fact, named for the owner’s 3-year-old daughter, not the patron goddess of Athens). Spiro has peppered it with his own special touches, thanks to his years of experience working at world-reknowned restaurants like Windows on the World.
Those touches, which Spiro describes as “Greek food with a twist,” are immediately noticable when served our pita-bread platter, featuring delectable homemade olives drenched in oil imported from Greece (not the inferior stuff brought in from other locals like Italy or Spain) saddled with four homemade-dipping hummus — each created by a member of Spiro’s family.
The standard white tzatzki cucumber sauce was divine, as was the homemade hummous and smoked eggplant spread. But it was Spiro’s own creation — the innovative scordalia spread, made from (believe it or not) bread crumbs, potatoes and garlic that had us at first bite. Do yourself a favor: order four and slather it on your pita and dig in.
But be careful, as the ample portions can leave little room for the rest of your — amply sized, of course — appetizers and main course.
We moved on to the lamb streudal, a blend of chopped lamp, mustard, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes beautifully wrapped in light, crispy puffed pastry. Go ahead, dip it in the mint yougurt and discover for yourself the symphony of flavors playing in your mouth!
But the most surprising hightlight of the evening was something we ordered as an aside: Spiro’s spinnach pie was not Greek to us — it was simply delicious.
So if your looking for a nice quiet evening featuring Greek food with special touches — or if you, too, want to have a birthday party where the food will quickly make you forget how old you actually are, remember, all roads lead to Athena.
I’m Marshal Slater, and I love food.
Athena Restaurant [535 Sixth Ave. at 14th Street in Park Slope, (718) 965-4578].