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Out of a possible five

Greek breakfast hits spot

It has been a bone of contention for years.

Since my first visits to Athenian Family Restaurant, 1020 Coliseum Blvd. W., Jack Hammer, executive director of the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival and a regular during his days on the radio, has insisted I had to have breakfast there to truly appreciate what it was all about.

So I did go back, and I did have breakfast, which is offered during all hours, and I did get a new level of respect for this Greek-inspired restaurant. And the thing I appreciated most was the atmosphere.

It wasn’t fancy – nondescript layout and furnishings with a hint of Mediterranean flair – but it was a peaceful place to enjoy a meal. At many busy breakfast spots, the hustle and bustle and clanking of plates makes it hard to have any kind of conversation. At Athenian, it was busy but it was quiet, and that set the perfect mood for a meal with friends.

Hammer suggested the Polish skillet and insisted on getting basted eggs, a method not many places are willing to use anymore. The skillet was packed with chunks of Polish sausage, Swiss cheese and onion nestled atop crisp hash browns. It was a little salty, but the runny yolks from the beautifully prepared eggs helped tame it.

My interest was piqued by the turkey omelet as I have not seen that offered elsewhere. This healthy option includes off-the-bone slices of meat with just onions, but I was able to kick it up and make it unhealthy by adding American and Swiss cheese and green peppers. There was a lot of turkey and it was moist and tender. It made me wonder why more places don’t offer it. It was also big with no shortage of the other ingredients, either.

The hot cakes and biscuits and gravy were fine if not extraordinary. The corned beef hash would be a great option because, like the turkey, the beef was of good quality and not the cold-cut variety.

The service was impeccable at breakfast and rose above normal expectations at my dinnertime visit.

When I asked my server which soup she would recommend – navy bean or chicken noodle – she ran over to the kitchen window, asked for a couple of soufflé cups and gave me a sample of each.

The chicken noodle was tasty and both were better than the drab house salad, but the navy bean was one of the best versions of this rustic soup I have had in a while. The al dente beans were in a thin broth – yes, it was a soup and not like ham and beans – with celery and onion, a good amount of black pepper and parsley. It was seasoned perfectly.

Athenian also offered the rarely found Greek appetizer saganaki (flambéed cheese) and served it with the customary “Opa!” It was perfectly executed with the edges of the goat cheese – which is the kind of creamy white cheese I was told they use – crisped on the metal broiler plate, and the only complaint was that the one pita that came with it was not nearly enough.

But the best entrée I had came from Greece’s neighbor. The daily special Italian sausage mostaccioli was loaded with big slices of tender, moist sausage, had a sweet sauce with diced green peppers and onions, and the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese was layered throughout the pasta, so there was plenty in every bite.

It reminded me of one of the Italian sausage sandwiches you get at a fair with onions and peppers, but just in pasta form.

The Greek entrée I sampled was OK, but not as good as the pasta. The Athenian chicken breast featured two butterflied boneless, skinless breasts seasoned with the proper lemon, olive oil and oregano. The flavor was perfect, but the breasts were overcooked and dry. The accompaniments were nice – sliced tomatoes and onions, Kalamata olives, chunks of feta cheese, a pickle and pepperoncinis – as were the three big, nicely browned wedges of Greek potatoes, which had the same seasoning as the chicken.

What I discovered on my return to Athenian Family Restaurant is that it is, indeed, a great place for breakfast. And it is also a good place any time of day thanks to the warm, friendly faces that provide its fantastic service.

I guess I’ll have to find something new to argue with Hammer about now.

Restaurant: Athenian Family Restaurant

Address: 1020 Coliseum Blvd. W.

Phone: 484-3700

Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Greek/American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Saganaki ($7.25), soup ($1.95 cup; $2.75 bowl), Polish skillet ($7.25), turkey omelet ($6.35), Athenian chicken ($10.75), Italian sausage mostaccioli ($7.50)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall).