A northern odyssey

The Uptown Parthenon is a busy place. On weeknights, when many restaurants lose money, the Uptown is packing them in. A cacophony of sounds greets you at the door: the clatter of silverware against thick china, Greek music, families catching up on the day’s news, girlfriends just catching up and shouts of “Opa!” On a Thursday, we asked for a seat in the smoking section, thinking it might be quieter. And it was, a little.

The Uptown Parthenon is a six-year-old spin-off of the New Parthenon restaurant in Greektown. Explaining the popularity of the Uptown, co-owner Polyvios Panagopoulos says, “The neighborhood approves of our restaurant, and the neighbors make it their home.”

It was a second-generation Greek immigrant, Sophie, who turned me on to the Uptown Parthenon. “I don’t go out for Greek food; if I want to eat Greek, I come here,” Sophie said, nodding toward her mother’s kitchen. But recently her father was ill and would not eat the hospital food; he regained his appetite when Sophie brought shish kebob from the Uptown Parthenon.

The menu doesn’t pretend to be the world’s most authentic — you can order a hamburger or a slab of ribs, wing dings or chicken tenders — but it does include some unusual dishes, such as baby octopus in a wine sauce. Reganato, loin of lamb baked in wine, olive oil and oregano, is another specialty. The best seller is lamb shank simmered in a tomato sauce. It is falling-off-the-bone tender without a trace of fat, and it’s offered with several different sides — roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, pasta or just vegetables. (Tip: vegetables tend to be cooked to that falling-off-the-bone stage, too, but you can ask to have them steamed.)

Polyvios recommends a weekly special that you will not find elsewhere: exihiko, lamb shank wrapped in parchment with vegetables, spices and lots of garlic. There are different specials every day of the week.

We began with an antipasto platter that included tarama (caviar in whipped potatoes), melitzanosalata (eggplant blended with onions and garlic) and sageki (yogurt with garlic, cucumbers and celery — our hands-down favorite) along with olives, stuffed grape leaves, beets and feta cheese.

If you make moussaka at home, you will most likely use every pot and pan in the house and spend half a day in the effort. The Uptown’s moussaka is delicious with ground beef and lamb, nicely spiced and mixed with feta cheese, then layered with eggplant and topped with a béchamel sauce that is gloriously puffy when it comes out of the oven.

For grazers, there are lots of combination dishes offering “a cube of shish kebob” or a solo stuffed grape leaf along with small servings of entrées such as moussaka, spinach pie or pastitsio (similar to moussaka, substituting baked macaroni for eggplant).

Stuffed grape leaves are served two ways: with the usual tomato-onion sauce over rice, or with a deliciously rich lemon-egg sauce. If you’ve never tried them with the lemon sauce, put it on your to-do list.

Describing the desserts, our server said, “A Greek lady comes in every morning to make them.” We settled on bougatsa, a custard-filled pastry. The custard was stiffened with farina, which kept it from turning the crisp and flaky phyllo into something resembling a wet sponge. It was wonderful. Also recommended: the Parthenon cake, sponge cake layered with custard and pineapple, soaked with cognac syrup and frosted with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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