America is a nation of risk-takers and pioneers, outside-the-box thinkers and cultural trendsetters. This is certainly true from a culinary perspective: We invented chewing gum, instant coffee and corn dogs, and launched the Culinary Revolution in the 1970s.
There's something to be said for classic tastes and time-honored traditions, though. The Maroudas family, originally from Greece, opened Pizza Olympia in 1985. The Anchorage restaurant prides itself on fresh ingredients and from-scratch preparations.
My husband and I went to Pizza Olympia for a sit-down dinner on a recent Wednesday. The heady aroma of freshly baked bread, garlic and oregano greeted us immediately. The restaurant's interior was clean and cozy, accented with Grecian urns, posters of famous Athens landmarks and silk floral arrangements. No fewer than four generations appeared to be at the restaurant that evening, from the school-age children folding napkins to the elderly woman who delivered our bread basket.
We perused the menu, which offered traditional Mediterranean fare. Italian options included spaghetti with clam sauce ($20.95), chicken caccitore ($19.95) and veal Parmesan ($20.95). Roast leg of lamb ($24.95), mousaka ($17.95) and pastichio -- layers of baked macaroni and ground beef topped with béchamel sauce and cheese ($17.95), rounded out the Greek offerings.
The wine list includes 25 or 30 bottles, each are also available by the glass.
We decided to start with the feta and Greek olives appetizer ($9.95). My husband ordered the beef stifado for his entrée -- chunks of beef cooked in red sauce and spices and served with spaghetti ($19.95). I was initially going to order the shish kebab ($23.95), but decided the souvlaki special ($15.95) seemed a better deal.
Service was not particularly swift. I understand from-scratch cooking takes time, but it was probably 45 minutes before our entrees arrived. We did receive some bread to tide us over, but our appetizer was never delivered (to be fair, we weren't charged for it). Three different servers attended to us throughout the course of the evening, though.
I had mixed feelings about my husband's beef stifado. The meat was slow-cooked and tender but a little fatty. The sauce boasted some earthy seasoning, but it was pretty subtle overall and let the flavor of the meat take center stage on the palate (a good thing if you like the flavor of beef). The noodles, however, were woefully overcooked and seemed to have been tossed with a small amount of the same sauce the meat was stewed in. Whereas the lightly flavored sauce worked with the meat, it left the noodles virtually tasteless. The fresh chopped parsley was the single most flavorful and texturally interesting aspect of the pasta. The dish begged for some bold flavor and/or textural contrast.
My souvlaki was a mix of high and low points as well. The souvlaki, the ostensible star of the plate, fell short of expectations -- it was tough and oily, and I pushed it aside after a couple of bites. Thankfully, the entrée came with a generous portion of oreganato potatoes as well as tzatziki -- a yogurt-based sauce mixed with cucumbers and garlic -- and fresh tomato wedges. The potatoes were hands-down some of the best I'd ever eaten, a glorified fresh-cut French fry with hints of salt, garlic and spice. Served piping hot, they boasted a firm, velvety texture and excellent flavor. The tzatziki was a winner as well -- cool, creamy and refreshing.
Pizza Olympia consistently wins awards for its pizza, so on our second attempt, my husband and I were eager to give the pies a try.
We opted for a medium three-topping pizza ($20.95). It was, in a word, excellent. The cheese was melted yet ever so slightly toasted. The toppings were high quality (fresh mushrooms as opposed to canned), and the sauce was bold and assertive without overpowering the other ingredients. The crust was substantial enough to hold up to the toppings, but still tender and chewy. There was nothing unusual or particularly remarkable about the pizza except that the execution was nearly perfect (which is what you really want in delivery pizza).
If it's pizza you're after, Pizza Olympia does not disappoint. As far as a sit-down dining experience, I've had better luck at Fiori D'Italia and, prior to its closing, Nino's. The restaurant also recently opened a patio with four tables in back, but with it being adjacent to the kitchen and beside Dumpsters and Conex storage units, I imagine my dine-in experiences there will stay indoors.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent