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.