Opa! Athens Market Café says go Greek, it’s good!

By Kelley Carlson

After growing up learning the family business, Vickie Anastasopoulos stayed true to her roots and branched out with her own restaurant in San Diego. She and her husband, Nick, opened Athens Market Café in Carmel Mountain Ranch — a sister restaurant to her sister Mary’s downtown San Diego location.

At her Athens Market site, Vickie serves as chef, using the culinary skills she developed and honed at her parents’ hotel and restaurant in the village of Levidi, Greece. “She’s the brains behind the cooking,” Nick proudly emphasized.

Nick aids in the operation of the restaurant, which was named a Small Business of the Year in California in 2011. He enjoys putting customers at ease — getting to know many of them by name — and occasionally breaks out in spontaneous Greek dancing alongside the staff.

Patrons relish the authentic food that’s made from scratch, served in a charming-yet-casual atmosphere, as evidenced by readers’ polls in publications over the years.

One of the most popular items is the Saganaki. Brandy is poured over imported Greek cheese, which is then flambéed at the table, often drawing oohs and ahhs. Afterward, the melted cheese is cut into pieces and wrapped in pita slices.

Other traditional starters that garner requests include the Spanakopita, a flaky filo pastry that’s filled with spinach, feta, herbs and spices; and Souvlaki, with pieces of chicken breast or beef tenderloin alternating with colorful grilled vegetables on a stick, kebab-style.

Guests who seek light, traditional fare will discover several salad offerings. Among them is the village-style Horiatiki Salad, with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, red onions, bell peppers, oregano and olive oil; and the Tabouleh Salad, a mixture of parsley, bulgur wheat, tomatoes, red onions, mint, lemon juice and olive oil.

There are also pita wraps such as gyros, which are stuffed with beef and lamb or chicken, along with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cool-and-creamy tzatziki sauce.

There are heavier, meat-based entrees, as well. The Pastitso is the Greek version of lasagna, a casserole-type dish with penne pasta and ground beef that has been seasoned and slowly simmered, while the Makaronada is a thick pasta topped with sautéed vegetables and grilled chicken.

The Lamb Chops are prepared with the “right combination” of garlic, olive oil, oregano and other “secret” ingredients that involve Greek herbs and seasonings, Nick says.

Another favorite dish of customers is the Moussaka, a baked dish of eggplant, zucchini and beef that is topped with béchamel sauce. It can be paired with a side of lentil soup, consisting of legumes simmered with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices that create a flavorful, reddish-brown broth.

Homemade desserts range from baklava to rice pudding.

To further the ethnic experience, patrons can order imported bottled Greek beers (including the straw-colored lager Mythos) and wines (among them the Kourtaki Retsina of Attica, which has a pine aroma), or even Greek coffee.

Athens Market Café

■ 11640 Carmel Mountain Road, Carmel Mountain Ranch

■ (858) 675-2225

■ athensmarketCafé.com

Signature Dishes: Moussaka, Makaronada

Open Since: 1994

Take Out: Yes

Patio Seating: Yes

Reservations: Yes

Happy Hour: No

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

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