Athenian Greek Taverna
2187 Jericho Turnpike
Appetizers: $6 – $13
Main Courses: $8 – $17
*#8220;We are located 4,000 miles west of Athens,*#8221; declares the menu of the Athenian Greek Taverna, located in Commack, New York (which, incidentally, is about 40 miles east of Manhattan). Commack, which is in Suffolk County of Long Island, is a charming suburban town, flourishing with trees, rolling green fields, and large houses that make up much of this residential community.
Since 1992, the Athenian and its proprietor, George Homenides, have served the inhabitants of this fair town *#8211; first as a yogurt and salad bar, then as a full-scale Greek restaurant.
*#8220;People were coming in and asking for some classic Greek dishes, so we slowly started adding items to the menu,*#8221; explains Chef Alex Homenides, who, alongside his father, George, and three brothers *#8211; John, Chris, and Anthony *#8211; manage and run the taverna (as well as another business venture, Athenian Ice Cream: producers and distributors of frozen desserts within New York since 1972).
*#8220;Before we knew it, we had evolved into a complete restaurant,*#8221; he finishes. Indeed, as you enter the Athenian, there*#8217;s no doubt that this eatery prides itself on fine Hellenic cuisine, with emphasis being placed on a warm and inviting dining outing.
The alluring smells of garlic, spices, and meat from a large, rotating skewer of whole lamb waft through the air.*nbsp; Artifacts and ornaments, both large and small, decorate the walls; with figurines of the Acropolis, photos of the many Greek islands, and statuettes of ancient Greek heroes. Wooden tables, chairs, and benches sit atop hardwood floor, with light bouncing off their polished surfaces from the sunlight coming in through the store*#8217;s large, front window.
*#8220;We wanted to recreate the atmosphere of going to grandma*#8217;s house for dinner. You know *#8211; the smells, the atmosphere *#8211; the whole experience*#8221; Alex Homenides tells me.*nbsp; In this regard, Athenian has succeeded admirably; in fact, the motto of the taverna is *#8220;Only yia yia makes it better!*#8221; (yia yia, of course, meaning *#8220;grandma*#8221; in Greek)
At the front of the taverna, along the main counter, also stand various Greek products: Kalas sea salt, Loumidis coffee, Nea Fitini vegetable oil, wine and cheese; all manner of items that bring you right to Greece, and are available to buy for those that want to take home a taste of the Mediterranean.
Near the back, lying behind the displays of fresh fish and meat of the day, the kitchen is in full view for all to see, with a large grill, fryers, ovens, and the aforementioned skewered whole lamb quietly revolving. *#8220;We want to show people that everything here is fresh and allow them to see exactly how we cook our food,*#8221; says George Homenides.
As for the food, itself; Athenian*#8217;s menu is expansive, ranging from some of the traditional old-time favorites, to more regional items, to some inventive creations using purely Greek ingredients. Before ordering, be sure to choose from their selection of imported Greek wines and beers.
Appetizers on the menu start off with the ubiquitous spreads, such as the scordalia, taramosalata, tzatziki, and htipiti (the spicy feta and red pepper dip, also known as tirokafteri). A notable addition is the fava, which involves the customary use of crushed yellow split-peas, but also includes red onions and capers for a more savory, substantial flavor. The spreads are great with the warmed, sliced pita chips.
Other appetizers include a number of grilled cheeses, such as imported feta, haloumi, and kefalograviera; fried calamari and grilled octopus; spanakopita and tiropita; fresh mussels; baked clams; and keftedes, also known as Yia Yia*#8217;s Greek Meatballs.
The keftedes were markedly light and tasty, consisting of chopped onions, garlic, and spices. These are served with a tzatziki sauce. As for the keftedes*#8217; preparation, Alex Homenides informed me that *#8220;everything is cooked and prepared in extra virgin olive oil*#8221;. This fact accounts for the rich and flavorful tastes of all the food here that simply wouldn*#8217;t be the same with lesser quality oils, which can lose much of their taste in the production process.
The salads at Athenian mix the authentic with the inspiring. In addition to the Horiatiki, which is the traditional Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, Kalamata olives, and feta, drizzled with a home-blend vinaigrette dressing; there*#8217;s also the Athenian salad, which is a mesculin salad containing mixed greens with red onions, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and feta, served with a red onion and tomato balsamic relish.
One can also go one step beyond, and try the Athenian Spring Roll salad, which takes a fresh pita, and rolls it around grilled chicken, saut*eacute;ed eggplant, roasted peppers, and Haloumi. The pita roll is then coated with breadcrumbs, and lightly cooked to enclose it. This is served atop the Athenian salad.
The entr*eacute;es at Athenian include a gaggle of dishes that have come to symbolize Greek cuisine at its best. Simply grilled dishes, such as the marinated pork chops, the main-course sized octopus, and roasted lemon chicken stand along traditional baked dishes, such as the multi-layered moussaka and pastichio.
A number of baked chicken breast recipes are also on offer, such as the kota me kapari: breasts served with artichokes and capers in a white wine sauce; or the chicken akrata, stuffing chicken breasts with spinach and feta, and finishing with an avgolemono sauce.
Athenian is quite popular for take-out service, and as such, also includes some pita-based souvlaki items. From the Zeus, which is the classic gyro sandwich; to the Odysseus, which includes fresh lamb or chicken cubes, feta, saut*eacute;ed onions, and a honey mustard dressing; there*#8217;s something for everyone. All of the souvlaki sandwiches come with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and are served with a yogurt, onion, or honey-mustard sauce
Various desserts are available*#8211; galaktobouriko, baklava, eckmek, and kataifi, as well as Greek coffee make the perfect conclusion to your meal.
It*#8217;s blatantly obvious that a lot of love and care went into Athenian; with the use of only the finest and most authentic of Greek ingredients, the comforting atmosphere of the taverna and its d*eacute;cor, the liberally large portions of the dishes, and the reasonably priced items, the Homenides family has created a landmark in Greek dining for the people of Commack. Perhaps *#8220;only yia yia makes it better*#8221;, but she*#8217;s most likely 4000 miles east of New York.