As part of extensive field research for this story of where to find good but reasonably priced food, your author and his date visited several local Greek restaurants, were politely assisted in departing after overeating, and never saw a bill over $25. That’s the Greek restaurant experience for you—quality food in stunning portions at a manageable cost.
They are all over town, and you can spot them by their names: Plaka, Olympic, Athens, Mythos—typically some connection to the old country—and what’s known in typography circles as "Greekish," signage and menus in script that vaguely resembles Greek lettering but are nonetheless readable in English. There is also the décor. Every Greek restaurant in town has decoration suggesting you’re on a sun-splashed holiday adventure in the Greek isles, even if you’ve just entered the place from a Buffalo snowstorm. While the framed drawings on the walls of Mythos, on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, somehow a reminiscent more of the Italian Renaissance, look for amphorae and plates, photographs and various regalia pertinent to Greek lifestyle and history. The front of Kostas, on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo, suggests the street has a Greek temple.
Then there are the small cruets of "Greek oil" on each table. Olive oil made lightly brown by the assortment of herbs at the bottom. Shake the cruet, watch the cascade as the contents mix, then pour it on your greens and thrill to the best salad dressing in the world. That little bottle and a basket of individually-wrapped jellies are the standard alignment at the table.
Contrary to the movie world, you will not be expected to throw your plates into a fireplace, yell "Opa!" or join a line of dancing waiters. Instead, expect a breakfast that will postpone your lunch or a lunch that will postpone your dinner.
There is remarkable variety on the menu—it either goes on for pages or is presented on laminated, two-feet-tall sheets—offering choices both foreign and familiar. For every moussaka, pastitsio, and souvlaki, there is a cheeseburger, Reuben, and fish fry. Mythos also offers a breakfast burrito and Cuban panini.
Greek food is heavy on meat, including beef, chicken, and lamb, as well as salad supplies and the fried potato delight known as home fries. Forget tater tots and whatever fast food places sling into a small envelop. Greek home fries are the real deal. They go with everything, including breakfast.
Breakfast at a Greek place could be the highlight of your day: eggs done every imaginable way, with meat, salmon, or a dozen other things inserted; two-egg breakfasts, three-egg breakfasts. Even Greek restaurants aspiring to a more upscale experience, like Vasilis in Kenmore or Zoe in East Amherst, offer a sensational and filling breakfast at a reasonable cost.
No, the restaurants are not all the same, but all have qualities that make a patron return for more. Mythos is small and noisy, the way an urban diner is expected to be. The Family Tree in Cheektowaga is expansive and caters to large dining parties. Plaka in Kenmore, Athens in Cheektowaga, the durable Towne in Allentown, the Olympic and the Royal in Tonawanda (across Sheridan Drive from each other and friendly competitors for years) offer a comfort befitting the comfort food they serve. It seems that the majority of patrons leave with a small Styrofoam crate suggesting there was simply too much food on the plate. You cannot go wrong in a place like that.
If you can handle dessert, most local Greek restaurants feature a glass and chrome display cabinet of revolving slices of pie and cake. You could get hypnotized by that.
Factor in an experienced wait staff, chefs and cooks who do not stall after an order is placed, and the aforementioned reasonable prices, and you have what may be a perfect restaurant. In Greece, dining out is encouraged and regarded as a luxury anyone can afford, irrespective of the patron’s or the country’s economic straits. They’ve been doing this for thousands of years. America benefits.
Ed Adamczyk is a historian and contributing writer for the Niagara Gazette and Forever Young.
Local Greek Restaurants
Western New York is blessed with many Greek restaurants. Here’s an incomplete list:
2878 Delaware Ave., Kenmore; 873-3447
711 Transit Road, East Amherst; 639-4550
1081 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 886-9081
1561 Hertel Ave., Buffalo; 838-5225
2904 Delaware Ave., Kenmore; 871-9800
510 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 886-9175
Olympic Family Restaurant
4611 Genesee St. Cheektowaga; 839-4022
1601 Military Rd., Tonawanda; 874-0771
Family Tree Restaurant
4346 Bailey Ave., Amherst; 838-2233
186 Allen St., Buffalo; 884-5128
1320 Sheridan Dr., Tonawanda; 873-0056
2801 Harlem Rd., Cheektowaga; 892-5019
Apollo Family Restaurant
3387 South Park Ave., Lackawanna; 822-8145
Acropolis Family Restaurant
708 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 886-2977