|Parthenons Ethnic Delights:
No Longer Greek to Me
What do I know about Greek food? Admittedly, not a whole lot. But I do know how to appreciate good eats. So when word reached me that a small restaurant off Bay Ridge was dishing out some really good authentic Greek food, I knew my job was to step up to the challenge and get to know Greek grub on a more personal level.
Parthenon is the sort of restaurant that I would have overlooked if not for the recommendations of friends coupled with my curiosity about all things gastronomic. Located in a small shopping strip, tucked between a Papa Johns and a Popeyes, Parthenon doesnt garner much attention from its exterior.
The interior is simple, too, yet comfortable and clean. Seating for 50 plus is available at neat tables covered in white cloths and paper overlay. Fake plants and fans hang from the ceiling. The less-than-inspiring Bay Ridge street scene is camouflaged by vertical blinds. The layout is open with a smoking section relegated to a few tables against the left wall. (I cant comment on how smoke is filtered under such conditions since on our recent visit no one lit up). A fully stocked service bar is toward the rear and a lone television (Orioles, of course) is suspended in a corner. Traditional Greek music adds ambiance via recessed speakers.
Manager Mike Lash tells me that the original Parthenon, founded over 10 years ago, was designed as a cafeteria-style cafe. While the restaurant has evolved to full service, informality and lack of pretense remained. The feeling is neighborly and relaxed: Combined with efficient and timely service, its a setting that allows the focus to remain on the food.
The food produced by Parthenon is overseen by owner Jimmy Tsiopanos, who can be found six days a week (Parthenon is closed on Sunday) running the kitchen and preparing the traditional Greek dishes. Originally from Kethros, Greece, Tsiopanos immigrated to Annapolis via Canada. His first endeavor was Timmys Carryout (located where Mexican Cafe now is). After a brief relocation to Greece, Tsiopanos returned to Annapolis and opened Parthenon in 1989. Keeping a family connection, his son assists in the kitchen.
Serving lunch and dinner, Parthenons menu, while not lengthy, has a wonderful variety of interesting dishes. For those unfamiliar with Greek, be sure and ask lots of questions. Most of the entrees include descriptions, while the appetizers can puzzle with listings such as skordalia, tzatziki, spanakopita and saganaki. It might also help to bring along someone more familiar with the cuisine.
On a recent dinner visit, my dining companion was thrilled to see saganaki ($5.95) on the menu. Also known as flaming cheese, this tasty beginner is usually made with feta cheese. Parthenon has customized the recipe with secret ingredients (what tasted like gruyere) with the result being a cheese fondue of sorts, presented tableside with a shot of bourbon ignited for drama. A basket of good crusty sourdough bread is perfect for dipping, as is the more traditional pita bread which is served as companion to just about every dish on the menu.
Another good beginning for anyone with an appetite or general indecision is the pekilia appetizer ($7.95) a variety plate that includes taramasalata (mashed potato spread with garlic and caviar), tzatziki (yogurt dip with cucumber), dolmathes (warm grape leaves stuffed with rice and seasoned beef), feta cheese, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and pita bread. The portion is ample and the flavors are divine. It was at this point that I knew a doggy bag was in my future.
For lighter appetites there are salads and soup offerings, as well as pita sandwiches such as gyro ($5.25, the beef/lamb hybrid shaved off a spit), souvlaki ($5.75, pork loin shishkebab) and chicken shishkebab ($5.75) all served with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, feta and tzatziki. But for dinner you might as well go all out with an entree that comes with a very nice Greek salad (fresh greens, tomatoes, feta, cucumber and onion).
Specials for the evening included lamb shishkebab and pork tenderloin; however, I was drawn to as yet unfamiliar fare. Mousaka ($11.95, sliced eggplant and potato with seasoned beef and creamy bechemel topped with tomato sauce), pastitsio ($11.95, macaroni noodles and seasoned beef with creamy bechemel and tomato sauce) and soutzoukakia ($11.95, seasoned meatballs with tomato sauce, served with pasta or Greek potatoes). Luck for me, I was able to satisfy all my yearnings with the combination platter ($13.95) that offered an ample sampling of all of the above. The meatballs were mild and flavorful, the noodle casserole dense and hearty and the eggplant rich and complex. This is a great introduction to Greek cuisine.
My partner toyed with the vegetarian stuffed eggplant ($9.95), a half eggplant stuffed with onions, tomatoes herbs and spices and served with feta, but couldnt resist the gyro platter ($11.95) served with string beans and Greek oven-baked potatoes. A self-proclaimed connoisseur of gyros, he pronounced this the best gyro meat around. The platter was also served with an additional side of pita and tzatziki.
All was washed down with some Greek Athenian beer ($3.50) and finished with the requisite baklava ($1.75), unfortunately not homemade, but provided by a Greek specialty vendor.
907 Bay Ridge Road Annapolis 410/268-7121
Proprietor: Dimitrios Jimmy Tsiopanos
Reason to go: Explore the Greek culture via taste buds.
Something to think about: If youre not turned on by the simple surroundings, Parthenon does a brisk take-out business.