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Athena Greek Restaurant: A Rich Sampling of Heritage, Traditions, Culture and Family

Written and Photographed By Barbara Kingathena2

Are your taste buds weary of the same old tired selection of fast foods or chain restaurant standbys? Are you ready for a culinary adventure that may be outside your regular eating comfort zone? Athena Restaurant (named for the Greek goddess of wisdom) will serve you a rich sampling of the heritage and traditions of Greek cuisine and culture with a definite sense of family thrown into the mix.

The menu is a giveaway to the essence of the restaurant, stating “when you are here, you are family” and it’s clear from the first warm greeting through the entire dining experience that you are part of a true family collaboration.

The owners of the restaurant are sisters Vicky Sklavenitis and Effie Siamos, originally from the island of Lefkas, one of a group of seven islands separated from the mainland of Greece by a narrow channel.

Together with their husbands, and Vicky’s son and daughter-in law, Athena’s prepares traditional recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.

athena8The sisters emigrated to the United States as teenagers, and have been part of the family restaurant business since the 1970’s. They are a passionate team; cooking in the kitchen, greeting and seating guests, and completing each other’s thoughts about the restaurant. “We are the only Greek restaurant in East Texas,” explains Mrs. Siamos “and we have many regular guests who travel from Longview, Athens and Kilgore. We have second and third generation Greeks who want to relive memories with the food their grandmothers used to cook.”

Colorful scenes of Greece grace the walls, while traditional Greek music and the intense smells of grilling make it a unique cultural experience for diners. Some patrons drop by to re-live travels to Greece, reminiscing with the family who always takes time to stop by the tables to share stories.

athena5Of course you’ll find traditional Greek offerings on the menu, like the authentic gyro, a blend of rotisserie beef and lamb, served with their special tzatzki sauce and always warm pita bread.

If you venture back to the kitchen, you’ll meet Mike Arvanitis, the grill master, keeping a watchful eye on the rotating meat ready to be sliced. Moussaka is another favorite, with layers of potatoes, eggplant and ground beef, topped with a béchamel sauce. All the ingredients used are fresh and food is made to order, and it’s evident when you see the spanakopita, stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, green onions and topped with Greek spices. If you are adventurous and willing to give your palette a workout, there’s lamb shish kabob or pork tenderloin souvlaki.

The hands-on partners are very particular about their food and service and arrive in the early morning hours to get items prepped, along with preparing a fresh soup daily, including avgolemono, a traditional Greek favorite from a delicious blend of fresh chicken, rice, lemon and egg. Fasolada soup is a crowd pleaser, made with northern beans, fresh celery, carrots, onions, broth and Greek seasonings.

athena6You’ll see some guests order a variety of appetizers to whet their taste on Greek delicacies, munching on hummus served with pita bread, grilled feta or dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice. Traditional Greek salads, consisting of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, pepperoncini, kalamata olives and feta cheese are all prepared with the freshest ingredients.

If you’re a bit timid and fancy something closer to home, Athena also offers more standard fare, like hot subs, hamburgers and lasagna. “Sometimes families come in and most order from our Greek specialties” explains Mrs. Sklavenitis. “When the food arrives, the ones who hesitated and ordered something familiar usually want to try everything because it looks and smells so good.” There really is something for everyone, as Athena classifies itself as both a Greek and American family restaurant.

Angela Bradley and Joseph Hughes chose Athena for a dinner date and before the meal was over, were already planning their return to try things they missed on the menu. They noticed the restaurant a few times driving by, and since Joseph had been exposed to Greek culture and food by a high school teacher, couldn’t wait to try it. Feasting on the Athena’s trio sampler plate, they were already eyeing the sweet desserts.

athena1They immediately noticed the “super welcoming” family atmosphere and loved the diversified menu. “Athena isn’t like some of the impersonal chains,” Angela explained. The prices are very reasonable and the food is unique.”

The sisters like to dream big and very soon the restaurant will serve patrons beer and wine. Some renovations are also being completed to a spacious party room in the back to hold larger groups. Live music is next on their list but they admit it might be challenging to find Greek musicians in the East Texas area.

Clarence and Margaret Beatty from Pine Springs were welcomed by name on their second visit, a fact that made a definite impression. Enjoying a Greek salad, Mr. Beatty commented that the customer service was outstanding and the owners really cared to take the time to visit and listen to their comments.

To top it all off, save some room for the home made desserts featuring baklava, made with layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and honey, tiramisu or galaktoboureko Greek custard. I left the restaurant with warm hugs good-bye and a delicious sample of baklava to savor.

Athena also takes care of folks in a hurry, offering take-out and family size servings for four, which is perfect for those busy weeknights. You check out the menu at or on their Facebook page at

Bring your family and join their family at Athena, open Monday through Thursday, 11am-9pm, Friday and Saturdays 11am-9:30pm and Sundays 11am-9pm.

Athena is located at 1593 WSW Loop 323 beside La Quinta Hotel. For larger parties, call for reservations at (903)561-8065. Walk-ins are always welcome.



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Around East Texas

Rose City Farmers Market Downtown This Weekend

By Barbara Greenbauer

Everything is blooming, growing, and flourishing in East Texas and it’s time to head back to the market!

Your Saturday mornings can be stupendous with by stopping downtown at the new Rose City Farmers Market location. Opening April 7th and running through the first weekend in November, the market is a neat, unique experience for the whole family.

Located just a block from the Square – in the Unclaimed Furniture parking lot in Tyler (236 S. Broadway),  the market is the place to be bright and early Saturday mornings from 8am-12 noon. Your senses will go wild with the atmosphere of the Rose City Farmers Market.

As part of the Food and Farm Coalition, their goal is to work toward a sustainable food system that meets the needs of both producers and consumers.

The market brings all that’s fresh straight to you: fruits, vegetables, and herbs all grown within 75 miles of Tyler. That includes pasture-raised beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey, free-range/non GMO eggs, and goat cheeses.

Jessica Bullock, Director of the Farmers Market, says “We are excited about the opportunity to connect people with locally grown food in a great community gathering place Downtown.”

The move to downtown makes the market “easily accessible to everyone, which is extremely important to our mission,” explained Jessica. All items sold at market are 100% produced or grown by the vendors. “Everything you’ll see at the market has been grown, baked, or made by the vendors themselves, which may be a surprise to some,” said Jessica.

Eating seasonally is what the market is all about, and when you eat food grown locally, it’s is always harvested at the peak of its season. Local food is also not stored in shipping containers, so it doesn’t spoil or lose health benefits on its way.

Buying food at its peak season also benefits our local farmers because it costs less for producers to harvest and transport and those savings get passed down to you…it’s a huge win/win for everybody!

With the Market opening in April 7th and running through November 17th, every week will be a brand new adventure as the seasons change and different produce are featured. In April, a trip to the market will fill your senses with treasures from East Texas fields like arugula, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, beets, turnips, strawberries, new potatoes, mustard greens, kale, lettuce, cilantro, onions, swiss chard and parsley.

The market is all about community, so you’ll find something for everyone from fresh bread to flowers, coffee, jams and jellies, and baked goods. Vendors also showcase Texas olive oil, handcrafted art, and Texas fruit wines.

And that’s not all you’ll get to see at the Market. Local musicians will be showcased every Saturday, plus a new exciting addition of rotating food trucks. “We are proud to serve as a venue to some of Tyler’s most talented musicians,” said Jessica. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy the perfect blend of food and music and great weather.

Vendors or members must meet certain goals including being located within 75 miles of the market, providing safe and fair working conditions for all farm workers, organic or natural methods, humanely raised animal products, beef and other grass-eating animals are grass fed, and dairy is rGHB-free. Find out more about becoming a member/vendor at

The market depends on volunteers to set up and break down, help with displays, banners, and lots of behind the scenes work. What a great way to give back to the community! People interested in helping can contact

“We are thrilled to be part of the Downtown scene and to be able to partner with the great small businesses that are part of this growing culture,” said Jessica. “The new location is a perfect fit for the Market and the thriving downtown community.” “We would like to thank Bill & Cecilia Bush of Unclaimed Furniture for the space and the support.”

Bring the family and spend Saturday mornings at the Rose City Farmers Market, located at 302 S. Broadway in Downtown Tyler.

Visit them on Facebook at and

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Warm Weather and a Full Stomach…What’s Better? Fav Patios

stanleys famous bbq ad

Spring and Outdoor Patios Go Hand in Hand:

Where to Eat & Drink Al Fresco This Spring

It’s that time of year – time to celebrate patio season by sitting outside and enjoying a patio. From garden atmospheres to cocktail bars and restaurants with expansive outdoor spaces, these establishments offer al fresco drinking and dining along with the opportunity to soak up some vitamin D.

Whether you are about grabbing a drink or just enjoying a meal and the cool spring atmosphere, Tyler has something for your tastes.

If you are seeking breakfast, brunch, afternoon cocktails, or a nice relaxing dinner, a local patio is a great place to spend the cooler springtime. Before it gets too hot, check out some of our reader’s favorite fun patios in Tyler.

Chuy’s Mexican Eatery (5935 S. Broadway, Tyler (903)509-2489) – Serving “big as yo’ face” burritos and other Tex-Mex dishes, Chuy’s is a great place to unwind after work. The Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken is to die for. Happy hour specials include drinks and food as well as a free chip bar inside in the bar area. The patio is covered by a palapa and has wind windows and fans which makes it nice year round. Also, large groups can easily sit outside on the patio. Inside is a fun, kitschy, Elvis-heavy setting.

The Catch (1714 S. Beckham, Tyler, (903)596-8226) – The cajun-inspired menu at The Catch brings locals and tourist in by droves and the outdoor patio is a great place to stretch out and enjoy a huge pan of boiled crawfish. This no frills, laid-back seafood restaurant’s covered patio has picnic style tables, ceiling fans and will protect you from the wind and sun. The Admiral’s Platter is great to share family-style at the table. All of the dishes come with huge portions with the plates are piled high. The shrimp po’boy rivals New Orleans with large fresh fried shrimp and remoulade sauce all combo’d to make a great sandwich.

Dakota’s Chophouse (4803 Old Bullard Rd., Tyler, (903)581-6700) – Dakota’s offers choice steaks, seafood and global wines served in sophisticated but never stuffy setting inside, but if you are wanting something more casual, we suggest sitting outside on the lovely patio. Live music makes for an overall enjoyable experience. It doesn’t get better than relaxing at Dakota’s on the patio on a Saturday night. Oysters Rockefeller are some of the best we had.

ETX Brewing Co. & The Porch (221 S. Broadway, Downtown Tyler, (903)630-7720) – ETX Brewery has been open for a while offering craft beers, tables inside, picnic tables outside, and a wonderful atmosphere reminiscent of the Austin vibe. When it’s warm outside, they will open the garage doors to combo the two spaces, making it expansive and open. Now, The Porch, located next door to ETX Brewery is open serving food with a unique menu to accompany ETX’s Brewing’s locally-made craft beers. The menu has classics like build-your-own burgers as well as original creations like the Mac ‘n Cheese Fries (add bacon), Fried Cheese Curds, and The Kitchen Sink: a sandwich on a hoagie with a choice of three meats, two cheeses and sides. The on-site brews are often seasonal so try them all with a “Flight.” We love the Brickstreet Blonde (a classic American blonde ale that is light, crisp, and lightly hopped with a mild maltiness), the Downtown Cherry Brown (a brown ale bearing notes of tart cherry), Hitching Post (a mellow amber ale with a faint caramel influence), and the rich Coffee City Stout (a dark beer made with a little locally roasted coffee and Belgian chocolate).

FRESH by Brookshire’s (6991 Old Jacksonville Hwy., Tyler, – FRESH is so much more than an excellent grocery store. Offering a huge patio, live music, an amazing view of the east Texas skyline, plus The FRESH Grill + Patio, FRESH has something for everyone. Live music is every Friday and Saturday starting at 6pm. With the food, drinks, live music, and a great atmosphere, it has become a hangout for foodies and music lovers. It’s a great place to meet friends or bring the family for a relaxing evening. Menu items include gourmet salads, fish tacos, burgers, fries and a kids menu for little Freshies. We love the J’Ville Burger and the Asian Shrimp Tacos. Beer and wine are available for the adults.

The Grove Kitchen & Gardens (3500 Old Jacksonville Hwy., Tyler, (903)939-0209) – “Where all ages can come to play outdoors!” You can dine outside, in the main dining area, or try their barbeque in its own building, The Smoke Shack. Upon entering, you’ll see a large fire pit, lots of trees, and tables of all sizes located all around – some in the shade, some under umbrellas and even some in the sun. There’s comfortable cushioned couch-style seating as well. Most nights there are musicians performing. All of this creates a nice isolated outdoors feeling even though you are still in town. There is also a gated roomy, kid-friendly lawn area for your kids to run off some of that energy.

Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ (525 S. Beckham, Tyler, (903)593-0311) – Where all the cool kids go! This unpretentious barbecue joint and bar offers open outdoor seating, excellent barbecue, live music, and happy hour Monday-Friday and all day on Wednesdays. The menu has beef brisket, ribs, chicken, turkey and sausage, as well as stuffed potatoes and Frito pie. The famous Mother Clucker (smoked chicken thigh meat with spicy mayo, cheddar and fried egg on jalapeno cheese sourdough) as well as the morning specialty, the Breakfast Brother-in-Law (a grilled hot link with cheese and scrambled eggs on a bun) are good choices. There’s live music six days a week, a list of delicious cocktails, and it is best enjoyed at a picnic table outside in the sun. Stanley’s patio is covered with sunshades to help keep things cool.

Strada Caffe – (302 E. Front St., Tyler, (903)944-7744) – This coffee shop has expanded to evening hours and with that, they are now offering small plates, wine, and craft beers. In the mornings, an Espresso plus a breakfast taquito and the outside patio equal a great combo. In the afternoons, the patio is quite roomy and a good place to unwind after a long day of work. Strada offers breakfast, lunch and small plates at dinnertime, live music sometimes, Sunday brunches, and local art in the caffe. Extra parking is available across the street.

Republic Icehouse (3807 University Blvd., Tyler, (903)504-5860) – This bar and restaurant has a large patio which accommodates both small and large groups with picnic tables and quaint small cafe-style tables. Most nights they have live music inside. There are TV’s everywhere if you are wanting to catch a game. Outside is more quiet and intimate. Republic’s pizzas are great, their burgers are on point, and the beer is always cold.

Rick’s on the Square (104 W. Erwin St., Downtown Tyler, (903)531-2415) – Rick’s features southern seafood and steaks in a vintage, brick-walled space with a patio and live music on weekends. Happy hour daily.

Roast Social Kitchen (1125 E. 5th St., Tyler (903)202-0295) – The eclectic atmosphere and the yummy brick-oven pizzas, chef-inspired specials, small plates, and a full bar is always a great time. Inside the atmosphere is industrial-chic with a touch of cool. Happy hour drinks and food are offered. Roast has a brick oven that produces exceptional pizza, the super-thin variety made from handcrafted dough and fresh ingredients roasted on-site. Outside, the sidewalk cafe-style patio atmosphere is a nice place to sit after dark. This is a great way to spend a spring evening with a cocktail in hand. Our favorite pizza, along with thousands of other’s, is the Bee’s Knees, topped with roasted garlic, a variety of cheeses, sopressata, Italian sausage, local spicy honey and fresh thyme. In the bar, find wine, beer and cocktails on tap, including a favorite, Rose’s Night Out, vodka with rose syrup and lemon for a light effect.

Villa Montez (3324 Old Henderson Hwy., Tyler, (903)592-9696) – The Latin-inspired menu offers seafood and meat dishes, plus comfort classics, all presented in the swanky old-world charm atmosphere of a hilltop mansion. The huge deck is a great place to have a casual meal outside among the treetops. You will not have a care in the world when you leave this expansive balcony style outdoor area. The Chimichurri Steak, sea bass, and margarita shrimp are delicious.

Zoe’s Kitchen – (8926 S. Broadway, Tyler, (903)939-0925) – The great Mediterranean salads, shrimp or beef kabobs, chicken salad sandwiches, lentil soup, Mediterranean chicken plate, and the chocolate cake are always perfect at Zoe’s and sitting outside on the patio is quite lovely this time of year. Be sure to try the fried potato salad, too. The food is always freshly prepared. This hip little place has a cool atmosphere and reasonable prices for delicious healthy food. They have a vegan and vegetarian menu.

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