Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Atmosphere: Simple and small restaurant with Muzak.
Price Range: Reasonable -- entrees from $3.50 to $5.95 Subs around $2.25.
Special Facilities: High chairs, on-street parking, accessible by wheelchair.
Credit Cards: Visa and Master Charge.
Reservations: Not necessary and, besides, they don't have a phone.
In the ideal story there is a scene-setting beginning (a modestly decorated but bright little Greek restaurant with interesting menu). Then there is a tension-mounting middle (Why are the few scattered patrons staring at us as we walk in? Why is the taramosalata bubbling?) And, in the ideal story, a resolution in which all these questions are tidied up with a brilliant and happy ending.
Alas, this is not such a story. A few bright spots, maybe, but not a happy ending.
What Magna Graecia needs, to borrow a phrase from another classical language, is a Deus ex machina, a magical device descending from the heavens to make it all better.
Until then we are stuck with raw -- yes, uncooked -- phyllo pastry and soggy, graying spinach, inedible taramosalata and some very good sandwiches. The desserts, also, were not bad.
The menu lists a promising array of Greek and Italian specialties, all reasonably priced.Pizza and a good selection of subs are included, too. In fact, there are encouraging signs all over the place that are never quite borne out.
We tried two appetizers. My husband, who will order anything with the word caviar in it, fell for the taramosalata, described on the menu as caviar dip. What it's supposed to be is red mullet roe whipped together with onions, olive oil and bread and then molded. What was set before us at Magna Graecia was a watery amalgam with texture and flavor approaching that of Perrier-water-soaked Wonder bread.
My stuffed grape leaves also suffered from the blahs. Their rice filling was mushy, overcooked and flavorless except for a slight hint that someone had passed a lemon over the plate.
Our children, as children sometimes do, knew instinctively that there were a whole bunch of things on that menu that they had better stay away from, and zeroed in like homing pigeons on the sandwiches and pizza. They were right.
The Greek burger (do you hear Socrates reeling in his grave?) was served on a long roll and included feta cheese, onions, tomatoes and -- this is still America, after all -- the hamburger. It cost $2.30, was gobbled down and appeared to be satisfactory in every way. A regular hamburger is offered for those who would rather stick closer to home.
Souvlaki was another success, though more modest than the Greek burger. Served on pita bread (you have to ask for it), it contained chunks of beef, feta cheese and onion.In fact, it was a lot like the Greek burger except the meat was not ground. Score two successes for Magna Graecia and prepare for the real disaster.
Its name was exohiko, it cost $4.50 and it came wrapped in phyllo pastry. It was spinach, veal and feta cheese. I knew as soon as I looked at it that I was in a lot of trouble and I was right. It really takes moxie to let something like that out of the kitchen.
It sounded so good and it was so bad. The veal was stringy, overcooked and possibly not veal at all but beef. The spinach was also gray and stringy and the phyllo dough absolutely, pristinely raw on the bottom.
Pizza was spicy and cheesey as pizza should be, though the crust was nothing to write home about. The pizza, and other things on the menu, can be had to take out.
Desserts were good, though they will not go down as classics in their own time.
It should be said that the visible staff, unless those people sitting in the corner all evening were staff, consisted of one sweet and very competent young woman who was happy to take time to explain the various dishes for us, and to help us with pronunciations. Of course, she had little else to do.
We left saddended. Where did we go wrong? Maybe it we'd ordered the Italian side of the menu instead . . .