The Souvlaki Project: Athens

wpid-20150422_131045.jpgAthens Restaurant
2801 Harlem Road
Cheektowaga, NY 14225

Wow did this one sneak up on me.

I frequented Athens around the age of 10, when I used to go to baseball card shows with my brother in law Cliff (Rest in Peace). We would hit the show, and more often than not, end up at a greek diner of sorts where he would get an open roast beef sandwich with fries and gravy and a Pepsi.

Other than that… I can’t remember the last time I went here on purpose. I popped in on a whim because I was driving by, it was lunch time, and I was starving. There is a huge “Try our $7 meal specials” banner on the window. The restaurant was filled with mostly senior citizens. They do decent Quickdraw business with a bunch of folks playing while they ate, and the requisite spinning carousel of deserts looked fresh and ready.  As busy as they were, I was immediately seated, and given a menu and told about the specials. The service was excellent. I ordered an unsweetened Iced Tea and a cup of Beef Barley soup while I perused the menu, and they showed up almost instantly. There is an intuition that these old school servers have where they just know when to interrupt and check in, and when to stay back. Their entire team looked well seasoned, and most seemed able to call the patrons by name.

Lets talk about Beef Barley soup for a second. This is a soup that everyone’s grandma or mom made. I ate it so much as a kid that I would never wpid-20150422_130218.jpgconsider ordering it until my mom ended up in assisted living and no longer has access to a kitchen. I make it sometimes, but its a pretty decent sized undertaking. One thing about this soup though, its almost always homemade, because Beef Barley doesn’t tend to sell well in the canned food world. Maybe its a regional thing. Anyway, the server brought my soup, and it was awesome. A great peppery broth with plenty of beef, it was served with oyster crackers, it was steaming hot, and all of the veggies were hand cut. Perfect for this endless winter. I will go back there just for this soup.

Now on to the Souvlaki.

First off, for $8.95 it was enormous. The salad was hand cut iceberg lettuce with sliced red onion, green peppers, and tomatoes. There was tons of feta luxuriously crumbled over the top. There was at least a pound of chicken, hand cut and cooked to order. It was well flavored, juicy, and had a nice char on it from the grill. The pita was hot and steaming and was definitely oiled before it was toasted, giving it a bit more of a crisp on the outside. This was a quality Souvlaki – someone cared about making it. They even gave me a steak knife. One pepperoncini and one Greek olive, as expected.

wpid-20150422_131058.jpgAs one should be able to expect with any Chicken Souvlaki, it came with a dill dip, but I like to cross the streams and leverage the Greek dressing in the cruet as well. This dressing is where Athens parted ways from most Souvlaki, and it will be make or break for most folks. The house dressing is a heavy vinegar dressing. It was almost an Italian dressing with Greek herbs like oregano added in. Now, I love a vinegar driven dressing so I really appreciated it, but this is NOT the standard Greek dressing, and some purists might be turned off by this counter-option on the classic oil and herb based accouterment.

I was NOT expecting this level of Souvlaki when I walked in the door but I was instantly impressed. I wouldn’t hesitate to take my mom or some other elderly person there to play QuickDraw and have some soup and Souvlaki. In fact, I daresay that this would be my moms favorite place, because she would love that vinegar dressing. I am now committed to taking her here. Couple this with great service and a pretty decent looking menu, I’d hit this place, and send my friends there. It is bound to be someone’s favorite. And if that isn’t enough – they have an Assorted Appetizer Plate that includes Pizza Logs, Mashed Potato Crisps (?), and Fried Veggies with Assorted dipping sauces for $5.99. Who isn’t going to hit that?


The Souvlaki Project: Milton’s

3425 Union Road at Walden
Cheektowaga, NY




Interesting Fact
Miltons is the fast food nephew of the Altons family. The name “Altons” comes from the merger of the names of the two original brothers that own the restaurants – Al, and Milton. I can’t prove any of this, but someone told me it once, and it sounds very plausible.

Order – Open Chicken Souvlaki – $7.95 (Beef and Gyro are also available)

Chicken – Herb marinated, most likely in the Greek dressing. Not charred, and somewhat flaccid. Probably cooked en masse, and then pulled from a heated bin as salads are ordered.

Pita – Standard half-cut pita – warm,  but not grilled or toasted.

Greek Dressing – Tastes like it is house made, heavy oil and herb with a little vinegar mixed in – probably 80/20 which I find to be the standard at most of these places.

Salad – Iceberg – probably bag-o-salad style as I noticed little flecks of red cabbage, and no one really goes through the effort to add red cabbage to a salad on purpose. Some cubed green peppers, red onions, chunks of tomato, and crumbled feta get put in the mix.

Greek Olive/Pepperonchini: One of each. This is the bare minimum for a souvlaki in my opinion.

Bonus: Dill Dip. It is delicious.

Experwpid-20150420_140509.jpgience: Since this is the closest Souvlaki joint to the 2 places I’ve worked at since I moved back to Buffalo 15 years ago,  I’ve probably had a thousand souvlaki meals of various types at Milton’s. One could safely say that the Miltons Souvlaki program is about as standard issue as it gets when it comes to this dish. Its not amazing, nor is it horrible – it just tastes like normal Souvlaki.

Milton’s is all counter ordering, and then they bring your meal on a tray to your table. They also do Roast Beef, and have Dogs and Burgers on a char pit.  They are very consistent in their otherwise unremarkable Souvlaki. I almost wish they would put the chicken on the char-pit to hit it up and give it some depth instead of just keeping it warm in the marinade as they seem to do, but thats just a preference thing. I also find it interesting that while they are part of the Altons family of restaurants, their souvlaki is markedly different from the one at an Altons Restaurant. Altons review forthcoming.

As I stated earlier, I’ve eaten here a gazillion times. Its not my favorite, but it is solid and convenient. For the sale of The Souvlaki Project, I recommend for a quick, inexpensive meal when you’re near the Galleria Mall, or getting your car oil changed across the street at Delta Sonic as an alternative to Subway.