Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Monday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations suggested. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
"Home of the famous dollar dinner," trumpets the ad for Athena Plaza. Pay $4.95 for the salad bar, throw in another dollar and you've got prime rib, or the Athena Special, a combination of four Greek dishes, or gyro or souvlaki. Or crab cakes, or filet of sole. Dyed-in-the-wool bargain hunters, we tracked the place down.
First of all, it's true. You really do get a prime rib dinner for $5.95, and it's remarkably good beef -- a generous portion, tender, juicy, reasonably flavorful and cooked as requested. And the rib is accompanied by excellent, chunky fried potatoes.
The dining room is attractive, with comfortable, high-backed chairs, and the servers are solicitous.
Among the other $5.95 choices, the assortment of four Greek dishes bats a respectable .750. The spanakotiropita is a beautiful spinach pie, with light, crackly phyllo and a nicely balanced spinach-cheese filling. Soudsoukakia is just as good, a sausage-shaped cylinder of ground beef -- dense, lean and nicely spiced, with a zippy tomato sauce. Dolmathakia are excellent stuffed vine leaves, with more meat in the filling than most. But the mousaka, although meaty, has a depressingly heavy custard that seems overpowered by nutmeg.
We were great fans of Athena Plaza's gyro and souvlaki in the restaurant's early days. They're still better than most, but our recent try was a letdown. The gyro is drier than we remember it (although still nicely lean), and the souvlaki's beef cubes are lacking in flavor and juiciness. If you want meat for your $5.95, go for the prime rib.
The two remaining $5.95 choices are best avoided. We found the crab cakes mushy and overloaded with mayonnaise, and the filet of sole well past its prime.
What do you do if you want both the prime rib and some of those good Greek dishes as well? Look for the combination Greek appetizer plate -- a real beauty, perhaps the best dish in the house. At $7.95, the portion is big enough for an entree, or it can be shared as an appetizer among three or four people. It includes soudsoukakia, dolmathakia, spanakotiropita (or tiropitakia, a cheese pie), taramosalata (caviar salad), tsadziki (sour cream-cucumber salad) and an excellent fried squid in lemon butter.
The salad bar has a dual personality. Part of it is typical, dull fodder: iceberg lettuce, three-bean salad and those gummy dressings.
But there are also calamata olives, crumbled feta cheese, taramosalata and tsadziki, and some fairly decent bread, so you can build yourself a pleasant Greek appetizer platter. (There was a time when the Athena Plaza served real French loaves, but that was before the $5.95 era.)
For dessert there's a very good baklava and a pleasant creme caramel. Forget the mousse and the peach melba.
Athena Plaza, we're told, serves Greek specials, including baked chicken and roast leg of lamb, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Judging from the Greek dishes we tried, that sounds very inviting.