Neighborhood classics can’t stay secret for long, and when Tina Fey famously let the cat out of the bag about Lincoln Park’s Athenian Room a few years ago, the Greek-American café was forced to reckon with the media’s spotlight. Not that it needed any help getting people through the door: Almost nothing has changed since the charming casual joint first opened in 1972, and it still packs in crowds nearly every weekend. Serving up enormous portions of gyros, Greek salad, and their famous kalamata chicken – with prices impossible to beat anywhere in town – prepare to be welcomed by one hospitable Greek family that continues to grow and grow.
Head inside under the historic black-and-gold sign, and lead your family under a brick arch to a large table in the back of the dining room. No frills here, just white stucco walls and pictures of Greece to serve as backdrop for a chill evening of comfort food. Begin with a dish of taramosalata: Greek caviar that’s a creamy, savory white dip – and your new favorite thing, once scooped up on fluffy pita. Then, on to your small Greek salad (although nothing is small at Athenian Room), where you sink your fork into a crumbly, generous helping of feta cheese (“brick” may be a more appropriate word). The menu also has plenty of burgers, chicken, and fries for little ones; and note that there’s no alcohol, so save that nightcap for somewhere fun.
Now, there are two heavy-hitting entrées that nearly all Athenian fans swear by. First, the gyro dinner is a mini mountain of meat on a large plate of Greek fries soaking in a magic mix of oil, spices, and vinegar. Swirl them around and wonder: Just how can tangy fries taste this good? The world may never know. But, the one dish that really brings people back, the big daddy that put Athenian Room forever and always on the map, is the chicken kalamata. Rotisserie-style, cooked to perfection, and doused in oil on a bed of zingy Greek fries; you might hesitate to say it’s what the gods snack on. But, man, is it close. One bite and bam: You’re a part of the family.