I’m hard-pressed to say I have a favorite food. I’ve eaten tacos for days in a row-same with pasta dishes-and I have a hard time staying away from Mediterranean food. Hummus, Babaganoush, Falafel, Tahini sauce…I love it. One of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood is Gyros King where I get the best falafel I’ve ever tasted. Gyros King is Lebanese rather than Greek, a culinary distinction I’d never made until I recently went to The Athenian, a Greek restaurant here in Aurora. I expected to find a falafel plate at The Athenian, not realizing falafel is a Middle Eastern staple rather than a Greek one.
I swallowed my disappointment at finding no falafel plate on The Athenian’s menu and turned my search to a vegan option, any vegan option, only to find The Athenian is vegetarian friendly; not so much vegan. The culprit? Cheese. Feta cheese to be exact and it’s on 98% of the dishes. The Veggie Delight looked promising with hummus and dolmades but the red and green peppers stuffed with feta were a no go. Any salad would have to have been ordered without the meat and the feta. The Veggie Plate contained spanikopita and a dish called tiropitas; feta cheese wrapped in filo dough and baked. I admit the tiropitas sounded tasty but I kept looking for something vegan. My last chance was the veggie pasta but it was going to come with something called Myzithra. I had a faint hope that, since I’d never heard of it, Myzithra might be a plant-based or gourmet cashew cheese but reason prevailed and I ordered off the appetizer menu. I ordered Dolmades, planning to give the tzatziki sauce to my mother, and the hummus and pita. Ah, hummus. Where would we vegans be without hummus?
These two appetizers were plenty of food. I gave the tzatziki sauce to my Mom and Step-father to eat with their salads and the lemon was plenty of sauce for the dolmades. I squeezed the lemon over the top and tucked in. They were wonderfully tasty: the grape leaves not too fibrous and the herbed rice stuffing subtly spiced and not too salty. The lemon juice added a delightful tang and I ate them all. The hummus was light and fresh tasting as well; not too heavy on the garlic, or too oily, or too tart. The pita was fresh and soft and I was able to make miniature sandwiches with the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber garnish. While the pickings were slim, I was able to put together a satisfying and completely vegan meal.
The Athenian doesn’t get high marks for being vegan friendly. However, the restaurant gets the highest marks for being people friendly. The Athenian is a family owned restaurant and you can see the entire family serving, laughing with customers, and making first-timers feel welcome. The restaurant must serve a great deal of “regulars” as there were several hugs between various patrons and owners after meals were completed. The Athenian has an extensive wine bar and I would have partaken if a visit to the bookstore hadn’t preceded my visit to the restaurant. Maybe next time.
Will there be a next time? I think so. There are times when I’ve been in some restaurants and the smell of cooking meat makes me feel nauseous. I didn’t experience that at all at The Athenian, despite the meat heavy dishes. And, I’m the only vegan in my family. Ultimately, despite the lack of cheese-free options. this was a great choice for my family and I to enjoy a night out together. My Step-father didn’t have to didn’t have to eat anything weird (he pushed his dolmades to the side of his plate: I ate them today with the rest of my hummus) and both he and my mother were able to get what they wanted to eat while I could stick to my vegan lifestyle.
Check out The Athenian’s menu here: the menu in the restaurant does have a few items not listed.