Somewhere, perhaps engraved upon sacred tablets buried deep in the soil of Mount Olympus, there's an ancient code to which 99 percent of all Greek restaurants in America are beholden. The code calls for a color scheme of striking azure and pure white; it insists that guests listen to the manic sounds of rebetika music; and it maintains that every last one contain a bust of Alexander the Great, airbrushed travel posters of the Grecian Isles and vegetable-packed Greek salads large enough to feed a Trojan horse and its hidden battalion of soldiers.
Acropolis Cuisine abides by all of the above-mentioned stereotypes (it gets extra credit for a name that stirs forth images of crumbling white columns), though not to the detriment of its food. There's calamari fried so quickly and tenderly that its weightless batter barely bonds, rice-stuffed grape leaves that remain firm despite a soaking of lemon juice and olive oil, and absorbent pita bread that's thick as a pancake.
Soups seem to be one of the kitchen's prides, especially the traditional avgholemono, an eggdrop-type soup made with chicken stock and rice that's season-less in its bright, lemony, stick-to-your-ribness. The terrific six-onion soup that's sometimes on special is a thick, stinky-sweet puree the gray-green color of olive oil soap; puffed pastry is baked over the top of each cup like a lopsided, golden-brown chef's toque.
As opposed to its Hellenic namesake, a drive past Acropolis on Veterans Memorial Boulevard doesn't impress; in fact, it entices little more than the next strip-mall eatery. The big deal here is tasted, not viewed. A restaurant serving down-home cooking in Greece is a called a taverna. As with the bistros in France and the trattorias in Italy, the food found at tavernas is closely related to the simple fare prepared in Greece's home kitchens: It's steeped in olive oil and lemon juice, overwhelmed with garlic and sharp olives, and garnished with dried herbs and thick yogurt. Given the cheerfully uncomplicated offerings at Acropolis Cuisine -- and their adherence to such an ingredient roster -- I'd like to call it Acropolis Taverna instead.
The food here is likewise taverna-cheap, costing about as much as it would cost to prepare it in your own home kitchen.
In Greece, the age of Christianity hardly diminished the wine god Dionysus' standing in public houses of food and drink. The most interesting start to a meal at Acropolis is, accordingly, a glass of wine. Curious tableside travelers will find great adventure in Retsina, the golden wine flavored with pine resin that's often compared to turpentine -- in a good way. Retsina's severity parries well with the great punch of garlic in various Acropolis appetizers, like hummus, baba ghanoush and tzadziki. The hummus and baba ghanoush -- chick pea and roasted eggplant purees, respectively -- are thicker and more paste-like here than they are at most Middle Eastern restaurants, void of tahini's bland nuttiness but still good for pita-dipping. A server revealed that the tzadziki, a delicious cucumber-yogurt condiment, is actually made with sour cream in order to approximate Greece's fatty, sheep's milk yogurt.
Acropolis' entrees are considerably less spectacular than its appetizers, refined soups and Greek salads containing some of the creamiest, least abrasive feta cheese I've ever tasted. The moussaka, Greece's answer to Shepherd's Pie, consisted mostly of potato; I discerned some mushy eggplant, but only by sight. Half a roasted chicken was unforgivably dry, and pork kebabs suffered similarly. Thick-crust pizzas of various toppings are neither shameful nor special -- order them for picky kids looking for an alternative.
Lamb was the winner among my tablemates, including lamb chops rubbed with herbs and spices and grilled to medium, and sliced leg of lamb automatically served well-done and drenched with squeezed lemon. A lightly breaded and pan-fried grouper fillet appeared lackluster, until the first impossibly moist, well-seasoned bite. All entrees come with sauteed vegetables and foil-wrapped baked potatoes, which is either comforting or boring depending upon your disposition.
The compact dining room seats about 40 people, not including the men who often emerge from the kitchen to perch, singly, at the two-person table closest to the bar. The room seems to remain half-full all day long, the noise level maintaining a mid-volume hum so that it's possible to carry on a private conversation while eavesdropping on the pocket-size television the man at the next table brought in lieu of a dining companion. Elsewhere in the room, old ladies exchange competing grandkid stories over triangles of baklava weighted with honey; gym buddies go Atkins over heaping gyros platters. Intuitive servers ensure that you want for nothing, including time apart from your server.
Greek coffee is a boiled-to-order cup of sweetened sludge that tastes somehow related to both chocolate and mud. People who like to sip coffee rather than chew it won't agree, but I think it's the best wrap-up to a Greek meal -- better even than Acropolis' strong cappuccino tiramisu. There should be an edict about it somewhere, chiseled across a frieze.
- Cheryl Gerber
- With its Trojan-horse size portions and tasty chunks of feta cheese, the Greek salad is a highlight at ACROPOLIS CUISINE.