Ballard Food Police: Glowing new Greek place feels old
5407 20th Ave. N.W., 829-8934
Tuesday through Saturday: Lunch 11-3, Dinner 5-10
Plaka Estiatorio, one of the latest addition to Ballard's ever-growing restaurant scene, is an Athenian style establishment named after the old Athens neighborhood Plaka. Here, dogs romped freely, and the mayor generously gave of himself to all that would gather round. Crying out for love, all would converge for simple, elegant foods.
That of course is made up. But our visit to Plaka was real, and it already feels like it's been around for a while, as they've created a "lived-in" feel.
One of the nice touches is the old wood floor from the clock repair shop, which formerly occupied the space. Under the old funky carpets lay a beautiful and burnished hardwood floor, all a'shining and a'glow. And now, with that nasty carpet removed, it can shine again. Seldom is something more exciting or worthy of celebration than a bright and shiny floor that is daylighted from filthy rugs.
The exposed brick walls add to the familiar feel, although it seems a bit faux, and makes us wonder what the clock shop was like before. We'll never know, and that's the problem with these new and modern remodels.
People labored for decades in specific environs, then someone comes in and rips up this, changes that, pulls off this, puts in that, and we never remember what was there before. History is lost and recreated, but at least we get a fancy and friendly new place to eat, replete with a warm staff regaled in classic Greek fisherman's hats, and the clock shop moves across the street.
A large table in the middle of a long and angled room sits waiting for big groups and families. We see the folks who appear to be the managers or owners sitting at the table as though it is their dining room, surrounded by elders who chat vigorously. It's a nice feeling.
Generally speaking, ample chairs encourage lingering and deliberate conversation. Walls are covered with family photos and pictures of Greek villages. Initially we scoff at what we think is the fake black and white imagery, only to realize that the 60-something servers are featured in the photos as more like 30-somethings.
Frankly, they look better now than then, and that’s part of the fun.
Although the restaurant is brightly lighted with many exposed surfaces, its irregular shape keeps it from being too noisy, creating a conversation-friendly space in which to retire for an evening.
Handsome male employees strut briskly ‘round the restaurant, clad in black slacks and white shirts, all acting as though they are the owners. It's a nice feel, a comfortable feel, and a familiar environ to kick back and enjoy some Greek food and wine.
Several generations of the family owners seem to be working in the kitchen at once, and they already know many of the customers who have been frequenting the place since opening day. Our chatty and friendly server recommended the dry rose, for which we are most appreciative. This is a nice deal for $7, and we are humbled.
We also sampled the mighty Olympia retsina, reeking of pine oil, hinting at pine-scented cleanser. This is a wine that must be tried, with a clear mind and open heart.
Chicken-studded avgolemeno soup ($2.50/4.75) is a welcome start to the meal. Grilled smelt ($6), clearly superior to raw smelt, is served hot and crispy, with an uber-garlic chilled skordalia on the side. Our challenge to all of Ballard is this: dip your smelt in this garlic-rocked dip, take a whiff of your own breath, write a poem about it, and send it to us at email@example.com.
Horiatiki ($9) delivers whimsical vegetable and oil goodness, offering a mixture of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, capers, Greek olives, and feta. A most delightful lemon vinaigrette rides shotgun, creating an altogether welcome change from the green-based salads.
Souvlaki skewers are predictably tender, with a trio of chicken, pork, and lamb ($18 for three) bringing home a safe and comforting taste sensation in the face of more risky choices. Another predictable crowd-pleaser is the Kota Alanyara, the grilled half chicken seasoned with lemon & oregano ($14). This little son-of-a-gun is plenty to eat, with enough left over to take home and feed the fish, cat, dog, grandmother, postman, and neighbor.
The Ballard Food Police visit all establishments anonymously and pay for all food and drink in full. Know anything we should know? Tell the Ballard Food Police at firstname.lastname@example.org.