Belly full of Greek

When you think of deep-fried squid, the word "beautiful" doesn't usually come to mind. But what we saw at Olympia Restaurant changed our minds. Sitting before us was a simple platter of what the Greek refer to as kalamari: a delicate, undulating tangle of generously carved squid steaks. They were lightly fried with a lacy batter and presented with lemon wedges, fried onions and peppers.

We could almost taste the Greek elements -- sunshine, earth and sea -- that inspired the food which kept coming out of the kitchen on the night we visited. While this restaurant is elegant in a gently worn way, the setting is decidedly humble on Colonial Drive, east of Goldenrod Road. Like a hardy olive tree that's rooted deep, Olympia Restaurant has been serving authentic Greek cuisine since 1979.

Although it's been nearly 40 years since the Vasiliadis family left Greece for America, they make regular pilgrimages back to the islands for culinary inspiration, from the tiniest fishing villages to the streets of Athens. Then they bring their impressions back to Orlando and work them into the menu, which is made up of old family recipes which have been tweaked through the years.

In addition to the kalamari ($6.95), we also had a feta saganaki appetizer ($5.95), which was a satisfying platter of steamy pita wedges arranged around a pot of warm dipping sauce, made of melted feta cheese, olives, pepperoncinis.

The "Hercules platter" ($13.95) is an easy way to sample the menu, featuring roast lamb and gyro meat. There also were dolmathes, marinated grape leaves wrapped around a stuffing of spiced beef, onions and rice, spanakopita, a delicate spinach pastry wrapped in flaky phyllo dough, and tsatsiki, a mild dipping sauce of yogurt, cucumbers and garlic. There also was a taste of moussaka, which my guest ordered as a full entree ($8.95). That's hearty but mild dish built of layers of sliced and fried potatoes on the bottom, fried eggplant and spicy ground beef in the middle, and a light, creamy béchamel sauce on top.

Our waitress was attentive and thorough, yet she gave us our space. This is a pleasant spot for a leisurely dining respite. And on Friday and Saturday nights, the setting includes traditional belly dancing shows at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.


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