Just like crab rangoon or General Tso's chicken were invented in America and not China, the flaming saganaki that's commonly served at sit-down Greek restaurants originated in this country.
While the practice of frying sheep's milk or goat's milk in a two-handled, heavy-bottomed frying pan does date back to Greece, the popular practice of flambéeing it right at the table was reportedly invented at the Parthenon restaurant in Chicago's Greektown.
The new Athenian Greek Cuisine in the former Abuelo's at 8255 Georgia St in Merrillville aims to offer a dining experience like one would find in Greektown.
The impressive restaurant features classical statues, a massive dining room flanked by columns and sweeping murals of the Greek countryside, including boats along the jagged coastline. A cloudy sky is painted on the ceiling and strings of light are hung overhead to make it like dining outside in a courtyard.
The extensive menu covers all the traditional Greek favorites like moussaka, pastitsio, dolmades, spanakopita, loukaniko, keftedakia, gyros platters, roast leg of lamb, over-roasted lamb and Athenian-style broiled Greek chicken. It includes steak and seafood, like fried smelts, pan-fried calamari, broiled octopus and whole-sea bass imported fresh from Greece and cooked in olive oil, lemon and spices.
A staple is the saganaki, an appetizer of flaming Greek cheese that's fried and then doused in brandy at the table where it's dramatically flambéed in a tower of dancing flames and a cry of opa! The fire is squelched with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
The resulting brick of fried cheese is soft, savory and melted to gooey perfection.
For more information, call 219-750-9454 or visit facebook.com/AthenianGreekCuisineMerrillvilleIN/.
Taste Test is a weekly feature showcasing specialty dishes at Region restaurants.