1050 Eldon Ave., Herndon
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers and soups $1.25 to $4.25; sandwiches and entrees $1.90 to $9.95; pizza $4.50 to $13.50.
Cards: MasterCard, Visa. Nonsmoking section available.
Fifteen years ago, Sylvana and Costas Valasis opened a small pizza carryout in Herndon. As Herndon has grown, the carryout has expanded into a 200-seat, full-service restaurant to accommodate a growing, loyal following. Costas Valasis says that a number of customers from the early 1970s, teen-agers then, come back with children of their own.
The setting is as informal and as light as a garden gazebo: White lattice arches trimmed with miniature lights frame a long expanse of windows. Plants hang in each of the arches and throughout the interior. The shine of the gold metallic ice cream parlor chairs is a bright, cheerful touch.
There is an honesty and simplicity to the nearly adjective-free menu. The spaghetti and meatballs, like most of the other familiar items, comes in generous, platter-filling portions. Even the pitcher of root beer comes filled to the brim without the usual surfeit of ice.
The chewy-crusted pizza, with a zippy tomato sauce and mozzarella/provolone cheese blend, is quite good. There are the standard toppings, including a high quality pepperoni.
Although pizza is still the kitchen's most popular item, the menu also includes Greek and Italian dinners and subs. The gyros platter is a tasty and generous rendition with slices of the flavorful, spiced meat cut slightly thicker than one usually encounters.
Another Greek specialty that was even better, the tender, roasted half chicken a la Greek ($6.50), comes bathed in a mix of fragrant olive oil, lemon juice and spices that is delicious mopped up with chunks of roasted potato or bread.
Other selections include a juicy, filling lasagna ($8.50) and a zesty, stewlike chicken cacciatore ($8.50), although mine had been cooked long past well done. I enjoyed the full-bodied meat sauce on the spaghetti more than the mushy meatballs.
The crock of onion soup was fine, but unexceptional, as was a steak and cheese sub. The moussaka was only so-so, and a bowl of chili resembled spicy refried beans with meat.
Ordering a Greek salad for $4.25 seems superfluous when the $3.75 salad bar offers, among the other standard ingredients, feta cheese, pepperoncini, and stuffed grape leaves. The salad bar is complimentary with all entrees.
For dessert, don't miss the warm wedge of baklava -- flaky, nutty and not too sweet. The other offering, a soft, creamy pineapple cheesecake, was less to my liking.
The energetic service staff, which includes many longtime employees, is well-informed, efficient and, above all, down-home friendly.
Sylvana's is an all-purpose, family restaurant offering a good value in an attractive, casual setting -- a hard place to beat for a pepperoni pizza and a pitcher of root beer.