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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 athenagreekrestaurant.com or on their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/athenagreekrestaurant.

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.

 

Around East Texas

Announcing…Dogtoberfest 2018

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Dogtoberfest 2018:

Craft Beer and Cute Puppies Join For a Great Cause

Join the fun with your four-legged best friend October 27th (11am-7pm) at Dogtoberfest 2018!

Held at Juls Event Center, 7212 Old Jacksonville Hwy., Tyler, Dogtoberfest is the culmination of adoptable pets from local animal rescue groups, pet-related vendors, local live bands, restaurants and food trucks and craft breweries.

The Craft Beer tasting will take place indoors in the newly remodeled Juls Event Center!

The ultimate goal of the day is finding forever homes for as many homeless pets as possible.

They are currently seeking vendors, breweries, and more; applications are available online. For more info go to spcaeasttx.com/events/dogtoberfest-2018. If you have questions about the event, contact: marketing@spcaeasttx.com.

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Around East Texas

7th Annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon, November 1st


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7th Annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon features Madison Cowan, First Winner of the Food Network Series “Chopped”

Thursday, November 1st  at 11:30 am at the Rose Garden Center (420 Rose Park Drive, Tyler), the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County will hold it’s 7th annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon featuring Madison Cowan, an Alzheimer’s Advocate and first winner of the Food Network series Chopped. This annual event benefits the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County.

Tickets for the 7th annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon go on sale September 10th for $75 per person. For more info call (903)509-8323 to reserve a seat or visit alzalliance.org.

Madison is a hands-on family man, cook, producer and storyteller with roots in London, Jamaica and Detroit. In 2004, after being awarded a four-star rating from The Times as executive chef of Ashbells in London’s West End, he established Madison Cowan LLC, a global culinary production company that oversees operations in licensing and consulting, television production and private dining that has reached throughout Africa, Europe, Japan and South America.

Madison has catered to jazz legend Lionel Hampton, singer and human rights activist Odetta, actors Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Anderson, rapper and poet Mos Def, fashion icon Donna Karan, playwright Lanford Wilson, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins and former President Bill Clinton.

He credits his mother’s influence as the springboard to his culinary experience: “She made certain I knew my way round the kitchen and would never depend on anyone for a meal. Sage advice I now impart to my own child.”

In 2010 Food Network selected him as a contestant for their hit Primetime series Chopped where he competed and won three consecutive episodes to become the first ever Grand Champion. Following appearances on NBC’s Today Show and CBS This Morning, in April of 2012 he was victorious on Iron Chef America’s epic Battle Kale and co-starred in BBC America’s exciting travel series No Kitchen Required. Madison returned to television in late 2013 as a recurring judge in Food Network’s delectable series of chance, Kitchen Casino and currently features on multiple series such as Beat Bobby Flay, Guilty Pleasures, Worst Cooks in America, Chopped Junior and Guy’s Grocery Games.

Most notably, Madison’s charitable endeavors include advocating on behalf of both the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s NYC in its quest to cure the dementia related disease, serving as culinary council member for Food Bank For New York City, a leader in the movement to end hunger and poverty and signing on with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move To Schools initiative, which creates partnerships for professional chefs and public schools nationwide with the goal of solving childhood obesity within their communities by collaboratively educating children about food and healthy eating.

At the luncheon, Bishop Strickland will be honored with the Butterfly Hope Award for his steadfast leadership within the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County for many years and his passion and commitment to the Alliance. Bishop Strickland has served on the Alliance Board and is now on the Alliance Advisory Council.

Sponsorships are available, please contact the Alliance office for more information. For more information regarding Alzheimer’s disease, Alliance programs & services or for volunteer opportunities please visit alzalliance.org.

About the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County

Founded in 1982, the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County is a local nonprofit organization committed to walking alongside all of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Our services include personal consultations, education and awareness, caregiver support and resources, and brain health advocacy in Smith County.


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Family

Fit City Tyler’s “Fit Bite Program” Grows


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Do you want to eat healthier when you are eating out? Fit City Tyler’s “Fit Bite Program” offers a current list of restaurants and their healthy menu options.

Participating restaurants are:

You can go online at fitcitytyler.com/fitbite and click each restaurant to view their menu items that qualify for placement into the “Fit Bite” Menu Recognition Program.

Look for the “Fit Bite” logo on window stickers, menu labels and informational posters. These will highlight the meats, fruits, vegetables and beverage options are prepared using any of these healthier cooking methods: grilled, broiled, baked, steamed, poached, roasted, sautéed or stewed.

​Any restaurant in the Tyler area can join the free “Fit Bite Program.” To enroll, go to fitcitytyler.com. For more info email Terrence Ates at TAtes@NETPHD.org.

Fit City Tyler is a community wellness coalition that supports individuals, families, and businesses to create action toward adopting healthy lifestyles. The Fit City Tyler coalition consists of more than 100 local organizations: the media, hospitals, gyms, public and private schools, city and county government, community clinics, public health organizations, non-profits, restaurants, churches, health clubs, fitness gyms, CrossFit boxes, non-profit agencies and numerous community volunteers.


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