Our Gourmet: After a short hiatus, a classic reopens

January 09. 2018 11:34PM
A downtown Manchester stalwart, Athens recently reopened after several months of repairs after a flood. 
31 Central St., Manchester; 623-9317; www.athensnh.com

Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Cuisine: Greek.

Pricing: Appetizers and soups, $4.50-$13; salads, $6-$13; entrees, $12-$27; desserts, $2.50-$4.

Scores for Athens
Atmosphere: 16/20
Menu: 17/20
Food: 17/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 17/20-$6.95
TOTAL: 85/100

The moist, tender baked lamb special at Athens in Manchester.

We were shocked one day at fall’s onset and in the mood for comfort food, when we pulled up to the Athens restaurant on Manchester’s Central Street and found the downtown dining stalwart … closed! Last week, when temperatures plummeted to painful and we had a hankering for some stick-to-your-ribs Greek goodness, we tried again. Turns out the restaurant had had a flood and was shut for months for repairs and inspections.

We’re happy to report Athens has reopened, and is the same as ever.

Across from Veterans Park, Athens’ squat building now neighbors a vacant lot, but little has changed inside, from the décor to the menu. Just inside the door is a framed Our Gourmet review. It’s from 1997.

In the main dining room, green booths for four line the walls, with larger tables down the middle of the room.

A function room, empty this night, is to the right. Fresh flowers and holiday decorations festooned each table.

Athens’ menu features the classics this eatery has served for more than 30 years, from Loukanico (Greek sausage, $9.95), to Stuffed Grape Leaves ($9.95), to Spanakopeta ($10.50) to Pastitsio, Mousaka and Keftethes (Greek meatballs). This is food your grandma would serve for Sunday dinner if your grandma was Greek; everything is familiar and comfortable.

Our Gourmet took advantage of a Sunday special, ordering baked lamb, served with salad, rice, potato, vegetable, coffee and dessert, all for a surprisingly reasonable $20. Our salad was a meal in itself: crisp, chopped lettuce, tomato, flecks of red onion and Greek olives, topped with a classic oil/vinegar dressing. For a buck more, we added a slab of feta cheese.

Served on the bone, the baked lamb was spectacular: flaky and fork tender, juicy and not too fatty, topped with a thick tomato sauce. Buttery rice was topped with the same sauce. A potato had obviously been baked in the pan with the drippings and was luscious. The vegetables were a soft, tasty mush, showing signs they were cooked the same way. We haven’t had veggies cooked this soft in ages, likely since Grandma passed. Perhaps off-putting to some, these were what we were looking for on a frigid night.

The Dining Companion (DC) bent her vegan ways a tad to get a full meal, as much of the menu is meat-centric, focusing on lamb, beef and chicken. She put together a meal she couldn’t finish, however, starting with a Greek Salad ($7), followed by a bowl of Avgolemeno Soup ($6) and a side of Baked Vegetables ($8.50). The salad was the same as OG’s, but the DC ate all of. She would have liked a few more olives.

Her soup was a hit. The satisfying bowl of creamy yellow soup was thickened by egg and brightened by lemon. She called it an amazing, silky smooth coating for her insides, perfect on the last frigid night of the recent cold snap, and asked for additional bread to sop up the dregs. Full, she had her mound of baked veggies packaged up to take home for another meal.

The Fussbudget, now 8, needed no time to decide after perusing the half dozen children’s selections, requesting the Broiled Chicken Tenders with Pasta ($9.50). For once, we think he might have regretted filling up on the warm loaf of bread that preceded our meal. Three large, juicy strips of broiled chicken were accompanied by a mound of spaghetti lightly topped with tomato sauce.

Perhaps a “kid’s meal,” this was an adult portion. The boy managed to gobble a tender and a few forkfuls of spaghetti, but much of this meal came home with us. The FB took a chicken sandwich to school the next day. The spaghetti mysteriously disappeared just after OG peeked inside its take-home container. We don’t know where it went but admit the sauce tasted a lot like the sauce served on his lamb and it was hard to stop eating.

Our trio was stuffed, but OG’s meal came with dessert and coffee. We needed the coffee, and the prospect of something sweet energized the DC and FB. OG and the FB split a rice pudding, though OG got but one spoonful and the FB ate the rest of the sweet, creamy, tender rice and the whipped cream and cinnamon it was topped with. The DC contented herself with a slice of baklava, enjoying the sticky, nutty goodness with a small remnant to bring home for later.

A lot has changed in Manchester’s dining scene over three decades. Elm Street has seen a renaissance and there’s more culinary diversity and creativity than ever before. We’re gladdened, though, that some things haven’t changed, and comforted that we can still get those Greek staples at Athens.

Our GourmetManchester

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