Atmosphere: Cheery and informal.
Price range: From solid sandwiches at $2.50 to sizeable shishkebabs at $5.95.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Special facilities: Street-level dinning area, though narrow, is accessible by wheelchair. Booster seats available. Street parking if you're patient.
Reservations: Not necessary, but may help on weekends.
Credit cards: American Express, Bank Americard.
In cruising the sidewalks for good little eateries around town, we've discovered that you really can't judge a nook by its cover - for some of the darndest-looking facades turn out to be fronts for truly first-rate family fare.
Take, for example, the Taverna The Greek Islands on Capitol Hill, as we did the other evening. What you see from the outside is a steamy window with a bunch of little green pears huddled along the inside ledge. Then if you peek between the beads of steam, there's your basic everyday lunch counter - only this one does happen to sport a stash of those little liquor miniatures on the overhead shelf.
But from what you can decipher on the doorway menu, which must have rolled out of the first Xerox copier ever made, there's got to be more to this place - starting with its more familiar name around the neighborhood over the years, which is the "A&K Restaurant."
So in we went, past the stools and into the back, where there's a friendly cluster of candlelit tables wedged next to the walls. Then it was down some steps, alongside of which someone has done a remarkably cock-eyed job of picture-hanging.
Onward into a most pleasant, narrow little basement room with maybe a dozen small tables tucked along the two sides. You'll note the Greek motifs blue and white tablecloths with panels of warriors and their horses running along the edges, a poster on the back wall and other hangings.
But our 11-year-old son and his amiable 12-year-old companion for the evening were too hungry to dawdle over the decor. They were straining to read the menus by the 2 1/2-watt brilliance of one those curved-glass garden candles with the plastic mesh body-shirts.
It was barely 7 p.m. and already the tables were filling up fast, the sound of jolly chatter now running about even with the canned Greek music. We put in for two Cokes and two fast Fix Beers (imported from guess where).
From the appetizer roster, which included olives, all sorts of salads, feta cheese and taramosalata (whipped, creamy red caviar), all in the $1.25 to $2,25 range, my wife tried the dolmades, which are grape leaves wrapped around rice filling, at $1.25. There were enough of these little green delights for me to rake in several leaves while putting away a 75-cent bowl of pea soup.
The boys had decided to share a 50-cent cup of this soup, and a question did develop as to how evenly they could spilt pea soup. Later word had it that one of them may have been slightly short-spooned.
What the boys might really have shared, it developed, was a single order of the Grecian roast leg of lamb for $4.25, since their two portions turned out to be remarkably generous - and beautifully done. With each plate came rice pilaf in the shape of an upside-down bowl, as well as a right-side-up bowl of salad.
Then there was the plate of unpronouncable-kebab, a house specialty that my wife tried. Officially, it's Ntoner-kebab, ground lamb cooked on an upright spit, for $3.95. This fine meat comes packed in this slices on a piece of Syrian bread, accompanied by oven potatoes and "Junior Greek Salad" (and if that was Junior, then Senior must be some kind of Greek giant).
When I asked my wife what was in this grand salad, the boys were quick to note that the question was not what is in the salad - but what isn't in the salad. There was another set of those grape leaves, along with olives, peppers, feta cheese and much, much more.
I gambled on a shishkebab, at $5.95, not knowing how much of it would be peppers, tomatoes or other removable spacings between the meat. Fortunately, it turned out to be a chubby, 9-inch-long lineup of mostly lamb in thick hunks. Had I known, though, I might have said hold the garlic, for they'd really let it go on this one.
Even though the place was now almost filled, our waiter somehow kept up his most attentive and swift service with two 95-cent slices of baklava for the boys and two coffees.
For everything, which is to say more than enough for a pair of youngsters who aren't known for caving in prematurely at tableside, our bill came to $28.84.
So call it the A&K or the Greek Islands - we call it just the right kind of spot for an informal, relaxed family sortie.