The Grecian columns that frame the entrance of the Hellenic House restaurant seem oddly out of place. The brightly lit eatery is situated in a part of Salt Lake made up mostly of warehouses and impersonal office complexes. Like the ornate red lanterns of many Chinese restaurants, these kinds of cultural trappings are more cliches than symbols of the time-honored traditions of a particular cuisine.
There were signs outside and near the front door advertising breakfast and dinner specials that were almost too good to believe. A hand-lettered notice in the foyer touted 7-course dinners for $2.99, such as liver and onions and chicken kadama. Considering these kinds of inexpensive prices, the industrial location, even glitzy decor, it is easy to support the stereotype that Greek restaurants offer a lot of food at cheap prices.What diners might overlook are the many gastronomic wonders that Greek cooking has offered the world. Some historians say that it was the Greeks who taught the Romans how to cook. Other scholars rhapsodize about the marvels of stuffed grape leaves and slow roasted meats nurturing Greek poets and scholars like Homer and Patroclus.
While not exactly inspired to epic heights by the first savor of the avgolemono soup, we were certainly pleased. The flavors of the lemon and chicken were blended with a thick broth rich with rice and a slice of history.
The other Greek specialties also brought us closer to the time-honored traditions that are the hallmarks of this pastoral and bountiful cuisine. The mezedakia ($6.99), or appetizer platter, included chunks of feta cheese, briny black olives, fresh tomatoes, Bermuda onions, cucumbers, dolmathes and pieces of marinated pork with an earthy tomato sauce.
The gyro plate ($4.99) was a piece of pita bread piled high with slices of the tender beef and lamb meat sliced from the rotisserie. It was garnished with Bermuda onions and a minced cucumber sauce accented with a hint of yogurt.
The lamb shank ($6.99) was accompanied by a large serving of pasticio, layers of Greek noodles, ground meat, and tomato sauce; rice pilaf; green beans, and dolmathes. The lamb was flavorful and tender. We also enjoyed the chicken Athenian ($3.99), a roasted quarter chicken redolent with herbs and garlic. Our only regret was that the mousaka, a Greek version of lasagne with slices of potatoes, cheese and eggplant, was still perking in the oven as we finished our bakala (99 cents) and rice pudding (79 cents) desserts.
While the bread was a bit spongy and the green beans overcooked, the ingredients in the rest of the meal were clearly homemade and well-prepared. And the servings were generous enough that we had leftovers the next day for lunch, reliving our Grecian feast.
At one time, the Hellenic House and Greek Islands restaurants were operated by the same family, with the Hellenic House formerly on State Street. Within the past several months, both restaurants have been combined into the location on Third West. An extensive American menu is also offered.
Rating: * * * 1/2
Hellenic House Restaurant, 2750 S. 300 West, 487-3045. Open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Major credit cards and check with guarantee card accepted.