For the longest time, if you were looking for something to eat along Ashburn Road as it winds into old Ashburn, there was the familiar Partlow's Store and not much else. But now there are lots of places to choose from.
A couple of shopping centers have popped out of the ground here recently, and one of them is home to Mediterranean Breeze Restaurant, which offers Greek and Italian cuisine.
This is a whole lot different than Partlow's, which was a railroad station when the Washington & Old Dominion was a railroad rather than a bicycle trail.
Partlow's has gone a little uptown from its days as a general store and now offers wine, but you can still get live bait and a selection of chewing tobacco.
Mediterranean Breeze is the creation of Terry Kasotakis, the owner and chef, who opened the restaurant April 1. Antreas Vasilas, a friend of his, built the shopping center and offered the spot to Kasotakis, who accepted almost immediately.
"This is a growing area and seemed a perfect place for a Mediterranean restaurant," said Kasotakis, who came by himself to the United States from his native Greece when he was 14.
"The combination of Greek and Italian says Mediterranean," he said. "There are other good restaurants in the area, but nobody has the kitchen we have."
Kasotakis first arrived in New York but couldn't find work. So he went to Baltimore.
"I thought if I got a job in the restaurant business, I would at least have a full-time job," he said. The friendship circle that started with some fellow Greeks in Baltimore eventually deposited him in Northern Virginia. He went to work as a dishwasher, progressed to cooking and ended up working for the past 20 years at Sylvana's Restaurant and Lounge in Herndon.
"I came to this country when I was 14. Now I'm 44 and I have five kids," Kasotakis said. "Things work out."
Mediterranean Breeze is bigger than it looks from the outside, with perhaps 30 tables split between two levels. There is an outside patio, although the view isn't much unless you're a real fan of Ashburn Road.
There are colorful and vibrant murals on the wall, which one presumes are scenes of the Aegean Sea. But then again, it could be Italy's Lake Como. Take your pick. The odd Greek busts and vases are here and there.
Many of the tables are covered with large photos of fishing villages and the like, although ours sported the "Athens 2004" logo promoting the site of the recent Olympics.
"The Olympics helped us," Kasotakis said. "People who were there came back and said: 'We ate this or that over there. Can you do that?' So we'll probably add some dishes to the menu."
The Olympics sparked a discussion among our party of the relative merits and difficulties of diving vs. gymnastics. There were unexpected passions here -- the word "wuss" came up once or twice, if you can imagine that -- and the argument came down to whether it is more difficult to "stick" a gymnastics landing or finish a dive with a vertical entry. Ended as a split decision, the bronze going to the one who mentioned wrestling.
The hovering waitress got us back to the menu, which is sizable and runs from subs to platters to pizza to house specials to pasta and dinner entrees.
From the nine appetizers, we settled on a fairly wide variety: mussels, spanakopita and fried green tomatoes.
A generous serving of plump and tender mussels was cooked in a spicy garlic marinara sauce. Surprisingly, there was no bread, which left us with nothing to sop up the remaining sauce.
Spanakopita is classic Greek fare, featuring spinach, feta cheese and onion wrapped in layers of phyllo. The restaurant adds dill, which was an interesting turn. The concoction had a pleasing texture.
The menu gives a nod to the South with fried green tomatoes. They came with a sauce that included diced shrimp and bits of roasted red pepper. The batter produced a nice crunch. The only problem with this dish was the blandness of the tomatoes themselves.
We hop scotched around in ordering entrees -- some house specials, a couple from the salad portion and one from the veal and steak section.
Shrimp a la Mediterranean was one of the house specials, mixing shrimp with spinach, feta, tomatoes, garlic and basil, and tossed in a tomato cream sauce with semolina pasta. Lots there, and we were a little startled to run into a couple of whole spinach leaves. The shrimp, a little dry for our taste, seemed submerged in everything else. But the well-sauced pasta was quite satisfying.
Moussaka, layers of potatoes and eggplant and ground beef, also came off the house specials list. Bechamel sauce topped this offering, and several thought the sauce redolent with nutmeg.
"I'm getting a pumpkin pie hit here," said one.
Something called Trio Mixto caught the eye of one in our party, and this turned out to be a popular selection. The trio refers to a slice of top sirloin, breast of chicken and grilled shrimp.
The steak had a flavorful turn, and if you like garlic, you'll like the chicken. We did. It came with roasted potatoes and green beans, the vegetable of the day. Vinegar was a dominant presence here, and we thought we detected dill as well.
The Olympus salad featured sliced sirloin, along with cubes of Gorgonzola, tomatoes and pale green salonika peppers. The latter provide a little, um, lift to the salad. But watch out for the seeds, which might take that lift a little higher than you might prefer.
We also ordered the Mediterranean Greek salad, which had a jumble of ingredients -- cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, tomatoes, black olives, feta and pepperoni. Stuffed grape leaves were part of this -- the best part, according to the one who ordered it -- along with a traditional oregano vinaigrette.
We must have caught the restaurant on a bad lamb day. One of the house specials was Lamb Kapama, lamb shanks baked with a Greek-style tomato sauce. This came out much like a hearty stew, but the lamb was disappointingly dry and stringy.
The waitress was quite attentive throughout the meal, watching over us but not being intrusive. We appreciated her honesty when dessert rolled around.
The chocolate cake, she said, was "standard" and was not made at the restaurant. This frankness momentarily stopped one in the party who had a hankering for cake, but eventually the chocolate impulse won out.
The baklava was made on the premises, however, and there was a small rush on that. It came cut in little diamonds, with a dusting of pistachio on top. Fragrant, sweet, crispy. Good.
The chocolate cake? "Not that bad," said the lone holdout. Sotto voce.
Mediterranean Breeze 20693 Ashburn Rd., Ashburn, 703-726-1045. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Appetizers, $5.75 to $6.25; sandwiches and subs, $4.75 to $7.50; pizza, $7.25 to $17.95; entrees, $8.95 to $15.95.
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