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Bites Nearby: Athens Grill Brings Mediterranean to Downtown Riverhead

Bites Nearby offers a weekly eatery worth checking out.

You could stand on a corner and look around until a restaurant sign draws you in. But we've got a better idea. Riverhead Patch will occasionally pick a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:

Athens Grill

Overview: Athens Grill has been at its Main Street location for many years, but just a year ago it was taken over by John Mantzopoulos, owner and chef.  A second storefront was added and now Athens Grill is twice the size it once was. The new menu features dishes that Chef Mantzopoulos calls “neo-Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.” Good description: the “neo” part refers to Chef’s updating of Greek classics; the “cuisine” part is spot on as well.

Decor: A clean, sophisticated look blends modernism with classical Greek style elements. The walls are the white stucco you’d see on buildings all over Greece with wall plaques depicting Greek motifs of warriors and goddess all in a spare and minimalist style. The larger room features a small stage where jazz combos occasionally play (Athens Grill will be hosting  "Jazz After Dark" on Saturday at 9 p.m. for the next month or so). When there’s no live music the sound system offers soft club music– at just the right sound level to allow for dinner conversation.

Drinks: The wine list includes local North Fork wines, Greek wines and wines from France, Italy and Chile. As Greek wines are rarely found on local restaurant wine lists, the Domaine Skouras Merlot, a 2005 Peloponese, is a rare find. It’s deep, rich, raisiny, but not at all sweet. At $9 for a glass and $35 for a bottle, it’s a real value. The wines by the glass go for $7 to $10 and bottles are $26 to $58. Cocktails are prepared per order and never skimped on.

Appetizers: An appetizer of grilled fresh sardines, beautifully charred atop a light olive oil and herb dressing is crunchy and delicious. Crispy crab balls called Kavouro Keftedes and Kalamaraki made with local Calamari are lightly fried or char grilled to your preference.  The variety of appetizers is a testament to chef John’s creativity.  Some feature imported Greek cheeses, some are dips and vegetables – there are 20 in all and that’s just for starters.

Salads: There are ten different salads, so if you think that Greek salad is just tomatoes, lettuce and feta, think again.  A very creative salata quinoa  made with local greens, red quinoa, roasted pistachios, manouri cheese, and dried figs is served with a creamy yogurt dressing. Other salad selections are similarly inspired.

Entrées: Yes, there are pita sandwiches and yes, there are soups plus seasonal specials that change with the season, week or day. The difference at Athens Grill is that the finest, tastiest olive oil, the freshest cheeses, yogurt, herbs and fish are used exclusively.  If it’s not fresh, local, seasonal or authentic, it isn’t on the menu.   Last week, whole roasted red snapper was on the menu. This week it’s local cod. There are always shrimp dishes and lamb dishes that are outstanding, again wild-caught shrimp rather than farmed and quality New Zealand lamb. The world’s greatest mousaka  is always on the menu.  The layers of eggplant, meat sauce and tomatoes are topped with an ethereal  béchamel that both melts in your mouth and blends the layers into a seamlessly balanced whole. The presentations are eye-pleasing and professionally executed.

Desserts: The desserts are all made in-house and are sweet, light and fresh.  There’s house-made galacta boureko and  baklava served with a raspberry sauce and a novel dish of fresh Greek yogurt with kiwi and cherries sprinkled with pistachios and served in a cocktail glass – a gorgeous and colorful presentation.

 

Address: 33 E Main Street

Chef: John Mantzopoulos

Price: $$


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