Vineland is known for its abundance of Italian-American eateries, often a go-to choice for affordable family meals. But it may be time to introduce the kids to something new.
Those looking to venture out of their culinary comfort zone should try Olympia Restaurant, where the Greek cuisine is rich with fresh ingredients and robust flavors. If you go with an empty belly, a hearty appetite and a willingness to try new things, you will leave as delighted as we were.
You can't miss the place along Delsea Drive, a white building trimmed in traditional blue. Inside, several small dining rooms, also painted Mediterranean Sea blue, are decorated with Greek pictures and artifacts, which add a homey feeling to the atmosphere. Although far from swanky, it's as comfy as if the proprietors were inviting you into their home.
With many intriguing options, we had difficulty choosing an appetizer. So we went with the cold pikilia ($12), a hefty portion of seven appetizers on one plate, each more delicious than the other, including hummus, a creamy blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon and taramasalata, a dip made with mildly salty red caviar. This version was light and smooth - an ethereal mousse that melts in your mouth.
Also included were skordalia, fluffy pureed potatoes with garlic and olive oil; tzatziki, yogurt mixed with strands of refreshing cucumber and loads of garlic; meliganosalata, finely minced sweet roasted eggplant with tomatoes, basil, garlic and onions and homemade dolmadakia, grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice and a bit of ground beef. Slices of feta cheese and a mound of calamata olives completed the palette of beautifully displayed tidbits.
How do you eat all of these marvelous delicacies at once? Tear apart the soft, warm pita that comes alongside, scoop up each dip with a piece of the bread, and savor.
Entrees come with soup or salad. As always, we had one of each. The Greek house salad is a lovely toss of romaine, green peppers, cucumbers, onions, salonika peppers, nicely ripened tomatoes, olives and crumbled feta served with house-made, garlicky vinaigrette. A classic, home-style escarole soup was packed with potatoes, carrots and bits of sausage.
The moussaka ($15), a customary casserole prepared with layers of thickly sliced saut�ed eggplant, potatoes, and a mountain of finely ground beef and tomatoes, was laced with fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, then covered with b�chamel sauce. If you are a lasagna fan, this dish could become a favorite alternative. White rice topped with cumin-spiked tomato sauce made a lovely accompaniment.
Giouvetsaki ($18) is difficult to pronounce, but it's easy to enjoy. Chunks of tender braised lamb are baked with tomato sauce and orzo (rice-shaped pasta) then blanketed with melted, slightly browned kasseri (sheep's milk cheese). Truth be told, there's nothing fancy about this dinner, but that's what we liked so much about it - straightforward food done right.
We couldn't leave without indulging in a hunk of baklava ($4), a well-known Greek dessert worth every calorie. Paper-thin layers of phyllo dough baked with walnuts and honey yields a yummy, syrupy treat that is utterly addictive.
Another popular confection, Milfay ($4), is equally irresistible. Picture several sheets of golden phyllo crowned with velvety vanilla custard, another layer of crispy phyllo dusted with a copious amount of powdered sugar, and you can probably taste how luscious this dessert is just by using your imagination.
Service is casual and efficient. We knew from our first hellos that our waitress was going to be terrific. She had the confidence and knowledge of an experienced professional without the formality we see at glitzier establishments.
A blurb on the menu says that food made to order, as it is here, may take a little longer. We had no complaints about the timing from the kitchen to our table. It was perfect.
I will surely go back to Olympia again, and I'll make it a point to invite others along. This food is meant to be shared with friends.
739 S. Delsea Drive, Vineland
Hours: Daily from 11a.m.
Liquor license: BYOB
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Wheelchair access: Dining room, yes. Restrooms, no.
Price range: Appetizers, $6.50 to $12; entrees, $15 to $23
Our bill for two: $53 plus tip