Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Olympia

The Olympia Restaurant
301 Lakeside Ave.,
Coeur d’Alene, 666-9495.

H zwh einai san angouri, o enas to troi kai drosizete kai o alos to troi kai zorizete (Life is like a cucumber, one person eats it and is refreshed whilst another is forced to eat it)

Several years ago, I unwittingly found myself blacklisted by the former owner of the Olympia Restaurant. I had a roommate at the time who had written them a bum check to pay for his lunch one day, and Mr. Olympia was not going to mess around when it came to settling the debt.

The phone calls started, sometimes waking me up at the crack of dawn. “Hello?” I’d croak, and Mr. Olympia would be on the other end, carrying on angrily in a thick Greek accent. “You a thief! You bring money or I call police! I put you in jail!” I’d explain to him that it wasn’t me he was after and I had nothing to do with the situation.

Either he didn’t understand or he didn’t really care, threatening me with “you bring my money today or I call you over and over” before hanging up. He wasn’t kidding. I’d pass the messages to my roommate but he’d just laugh it off. “Tell that cranky old coot to go stuff his Dolmades!” This went on for a few weeks until one day the phone stopped ringing. The silence was ominous, and I knew it wasn’t good.

“Oh no, the cops are here!” cried my house mate as he slipped out the back door and off into the afternoon, bye-bye. Reluctantly, I answered the door and the officer informed me he was sent by Mr. Olympia to arrest my roommate and haul him away to jail. I played dumb, saying “Oh, he’s gone. Out of town. Yeah, out of town, that’s the ticket.” Rattled, I decided to end the nightmare myself and go down to the restaurant to pay off the darned bill.

As soon as Mr. Olympia figured out what was going on, he came storming out of the kitchen yelling “You a thief! You pay me money and you go! You not welcome here anymore!” Feeling defeated and slightly embarrassed, I didn’t have it in me to try and clarify; I just slipped out the door with a serious case of the sads. The Olympia was one of my favorite places to eat and here I was banished forever through no fault of my own.

So I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief when I learned that Angelo Itskos and his wife Eva had since taken over the place. The transition was smooth enough to be almost unnoticeable. As far as I can tell, the menu hasn’t changed a word. The bright, comfortable atmosphere remains intact, complete with posters of the Greek countryside and authentic music softly piping over the speakers. Most importantly, the service is as friendly and efficient as ever. I had to chuckle when I spotted the handwritten sign posted near the cash register which read “Sorry, absolutely no checks accepted.”

I knew what I wanted to order, but decided to tour through the menu anyway. The appetizers alone are enough to make one want to pack a travel trunk full of big pants and hop the next flight to Athens to live the good life. Most tempting are the Spanakopita, which is spinach, herbs and feta cheese baked in phyllo dough, and the Saganaki, an intensely flavorful form of fondue, with melty kasseri cheese sautéed in brandy and served with warm pita bread. Or start with a simple delicious hummus dip, or a classic platter of Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground beef and topped with a lemon sauce.)

Lunch at Olympia revolves around the gyros, a soft pita containing your choice of seasoned gyro meat, falafel, chicken, pork, lamb, or Souvlaki (meat with a lemon-garlic marinade). Each sandwich includes lettuce, tomatoes, and onions and is topped with creamy Tzaziki (a yogurt-cucumber-garlic sauce). The salads are essentially the gyros minus the pita atop a bed of fresh salad greens and veggies and the don’t-miss dinner item has to be the Mousaka, a Greek masterpiece with layers of sautéed potatoes, seasoned ground beef, eggplant and herbs topped with a rich béchamel sauce.

I started off with a cup of their wonderful Avgo Lemono soup, which blends chicken bits and orzo pasta in a brisk lemony broth. It took one only bite to make me realize how much I missed this uniquely flavored treat. My chicken gyros arrived fast and was as perfect as I remembered, and as perfectly messy. Get extra napkins because these babies tend to get sloppy despite the chef’s attempt at a neat paper wrapping. Just make sure whatever you drop lands in the basket so you can enjoy every last delicious piece of tender meat.

I did notice the absence of the Greek herbs they used to sprinkle their fries with; minus this touch of personalization they were still pretty good, just slightly on the ordinary side. The grand finale of any Greek meal is the Baklava. The delicate layers of flaky filo dough, the finely ground pistachios and the drizzles of sweet, sticky honey make it the most perfect dessert on Earth, and I could live the rest of my life happy as a lamb kabob eating it for every meal. Now that I’m no longer banned from the Olympia, it’s a distinct possibility.


Anonymous said...

I've been a regular customer of the Olympia since 1999 when we moved to Hayden. I don't remember the previous owner very well, but I do remember his waitress (also his daughter??) yelling one time about needing a new washer/dryer - she was so loud we could hear her all the way outside the kitchen in the dining area. Not sure what the whole “bounced check” story has to do with the food though – was the writer trying to personalize the review a little? The menu may be the same, but the quality of the food has greatly improved in my opinion as evidenced by the huge increase in traffic over the last couple of years. Place was even featured in CDA Living magazine earlier this year. Good luck finding a table at dinner time!!

Susan said...

I will bet you a gyro that Mr. Olympia wrote every one of those bad blogs himself.

John S. said...

It was a great story Sir, I work near there, and I have eaten at the Olympia occasionally since it opened. I have heard the arguing and have seen the tension and Greek yelling when you come in 15 minutes before they close. I see the food has a new twist. Every Chef has their own touch, and this Gal's got it! I even took friends in for dinner, Eva delighted us in her escapades from Greece and how her Family has been in the Restraunt business for so many years, it's like second nature to her. She is the most pleased as people walk out the door and exclaim that it was the best meal ever. Her recipies were handed down for generations. You can really tell too. It was the most relaxing dinner out we have ever had. Bravo!

Greg said...

I didn' care for the first part of the article because it didnt have any purpose for criticizing/appraising the food or restaurant. I do happen to feel that the quality of the food has diminished since the original owners left. The baklava is definitely not homemade and the chicken lemon orzo soup has lost its luster.

PJ said...

I think it's the same or better, so fresh, and lean. It's the best lamb I have ever eaten, and they cook it perfectly. It's better than steak to me. I can't wait until lunchtime!

Jackson said...

I'm a student at NIC and all I have to say is who cares about the previous owners??? They are long gone!!! All that matters is that the Olympia today rocks!!! It's my favorite place for hummus and felafel - made from scratch may I add.

Patrick Jacobs said...

Predictably, someone didn't like my Mr.Olympia story and posted a series of rude comments under the rather tired and weak handle "Anonymous." I deleted them because it's my blog and I can. I'm happy to take constructive criticism to heart, but I see no reason to leave outright rudeness posted here.

All I will say in response is that it was meant to be humorous and not taken seriously at all. Sure the story is exaggerated. My coulmn is for entertainment, not meant to be taken as gospel fact. Anonymous is obviously not a regular reader or he/she would have understood my usual level of snark was in effect. I've always "personalized" my reviews with "funny" stories.

Maybe it was an off week for me, but you can't win every time.

Huckleberries Online said...

Huckleberries Online
OTV Review: The Olympia
Posted by DFO at 6:05 a.m. on July 27 Comments (9)

Question: How often do you eat Greek food?
Nine comments on this post so far. Add yours!


ejs on July 27 at 8:11 a.m.

Not as often as maybe I should but, the Olypia does Rock that's for sure.

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scootermom on July 27 at 8:24 a.m.

As often as possible. Boise has some tasty offerings.

Thanks! Now I know what to have for lunch. Dolmas and hummus.

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JeanC on July 27 at 8:48 a.m.

Not nearly as often as I like. Moscow is a bit deficient in the Greek food department, tho Mickey's makes a pretty good gyro. I just need to make my own. I make a pretty good hummus.

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Lynne on July 27 at 9:28 a.m.

Olympia is just okay to me.
The Eckness catering truck used to have the best lamb gyros I’ve ever tasted up here. Shaved the lamb right off the rotisserie per order. Wonderful.
Now I’m going to have to wander down to the park next weekend to see if they still come out for Art on the Green.

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JIMMYMAC on July 27 at 9:59 a.m.

I'm not sure if they still do, but Olympia used to shave the lamb per order as well.

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Lynne on July 27 at 10:19 a.m.

Last time I was there, they didn't even offer lamb. I'm looking at an old menu we have at the office and the only two choices were beef or chicken. I'll have to give it a try again.

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BigMac on July 27 at 10:47 a.m.

Olympia does shave the lamb. You can see the big meat cone in the kitchen.

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mike_s on July 27 at 11:59 a.m.

I would have thought a restaurant called The Olympia would specialize in oysters, have an incredible organic salad bar and a special soy menu; all washed down with water from an artesian well in a somewhat grungy setting.

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Stickman on July 27 at 5:49 p.m.

Just the word Lamb makes one just have to t

Ryan B. said...

I have read your blog that you just wrote and said that you took out all anonymous cause you believed that they were not regular readers, but you left one.. What makes you think that Anonymous is a regular reader?
Just curious??

John T. said...

Ryan B. maybe you need to read Patrick's comment again. He didn't say he deletes all the anonymous comments - he said he deleted the anonymous comments that were rude towards him. Telling a writer that you don't like his story and why is good criticism, but saying he's an idiot and that he was dropped on his head???

Paul T. said...

I heard the original owners of the Olympia are opening a new greek restaurant, is this true? If it is, I am excited that they are coming back!

John S. said...

REALLY? They sold the Restraunt and now are opening one as competition? In my opinion, that is pretty 'bold', in an unethic sort of way. Maybe illegal. I will eat at The Olympia, I am ADDICTED to their food now!

A Previous Employee said...

I know this review is a bit old but I thought I could clear up one thing about the Baklava, it is definitely homemade, as is the tzatziki sauce.

As for the rest of the food, the gyros are the only thing I really like. Nothing but the grilled meat, gyro meat, and salads are made throughout the day. It's all made in the morning or night before and then microwaved when ordered.

Oh yeah, and if you didn't know Mr Olympia is back in town and has a new greek restaurant, although I haven't yet tried it. My guess is they use the same microwave technique.

China tours said...
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