HALFMOON — Grecian Gardens is a family-friendly restaurant that serves crowd-pleasing cuisine at reasonable prices. It wasn’t all Greek, as we expected, but we found that’s what they’re best at.
The menu is a good fit for Halfmoon/Clifton Park, from nachos to chicken Parm, with some Greek specialties.
We have driven by Grecian Gardens and their busy parking lot many times and recently visited for dinner on a weeknight. Early diners were already heading out laden with leftovers.
We stood by the register and checked out the place. The main dining room, big as a banquet hall, is broken up in part by raising the central portion by a few steps. That is separated by barriers, like rows of Formica and vinyl booths and charmingly hand-painted arches, and lots and lots of silk plants. To the left is the “Grecian Lounge.” There, colorful stained-glass panels echo the endless rows of Tiffany-style lamps in the main room. We took a booth by a window.
Grecian Gardens Pizza & Restaurant
WHERE: 1612 Route 9, Halfmoon, 373-9950, www.greciangardensny.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $47.65 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible. Children’s menu. Reservations recommended for parties of 6 or more.
A really nice start
The buzz of diners in the half-filled restaurant was surprisingly loud. The mysterious galloping sound turned out to be a combination of the raised wooden floor and small children. Our server came over right after delivering paper-lined baskets of golden fries to our neighbors, and was she ever nice.
Even with state-of-the-art hearing aids, Mom has trouble hearing. But our server leaned in, addressed us directly, and delivered information carefully and slowly. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice, as this woman surely knows, but it makes such a difference. By the time she finished reciting the specials, she and Mom were pals.
It’s hard to keep laminated menus clean, especially when there are a lot of pages. Most of the appetizers are fried, and the only nod to Grecian cuisine here is the stuffed grape leaves. Soup is $2.95 a cup. You can get a plain dinner salad, but they offer a Greek salad and ones made with souvlaki or gyro meat.
The Greek specialties are joined by pizza, pasta, seafood, chicken entrees, grinders and sandwiches. Prices are reasonable, the chicken Parm is $13.99 with pasta and salad and bread.
A separate wine list offers mass-market brand bottles of wine at prices within reach of most diners. We each had a glass of Pinot Grigio for $5.95 in glasses that were chilly and very full.
The Greek dinner salad will cost you a dollar more, but it’s worth it. “It’s delicious,” said Mom, who loves iceberg lettuce and salty kalamata olives. She liked the feta cheese that was finely crumbled and abundant, even though it’s not usually a favorite. I saw dark red tomato wedges, red onion rings sliced almost into threads, and a chilly glass plate. “That, to me, is a salad,” she said, putting down her fork.
The house salad dressing comes in a small glass carafe, way more than anyone could use. It looked creamy but tasted light, and Mom said it went with all the flavors in the salad. Our server said diners often sop up leftovers with bread, and some buy it to bring home.
I loved the thick avgolemono soup, easier to eat than to say. It’s chicken-based, thickened with egg yolk and brightly flavored with lemon. The orzo slid right down along with the lemony broth. It was hot, wonderful, and perfect for a chilly night.
They could use better bread. The serving was generous but airy — better served as a grinder roll. They give you plenty of packets of butter and margarine.
Chops not tops
The Greek pork chop dinner ($14.99) was a special that’s also on the regular menu. “We sell lots and lots of them,” said our server. I was lured by descriptions of delicious, crowd-pleasing juicy grilled chops.
Why haven’t I learned? You can brine them or bread them, but they’re not tender or flavorful and one was very hard to cut even with a sharp knife. There was lots of juice, but not from fat. I nibbled the slightly fatty perimeters. I’m in the minority on this, lots of people order them and are happy.
Greek potatoes are a specialty of the house, seasoned wedges of peeled and roasted potato seasoned with salt and garlic and lemon, but I found that the tart lemon overwhelmed them. Browning the potatoes might have toned it down.
I loved the vegetables, a medley of green beans, broccoli, carrot, red pepper, and yellow and green squash. We cook frozen vegetables at our house on busy weeknights, and Grecian Garden adds loads of butter and salt like we do. I loved them, especially the broccoli crowns that sopped up the salty butter.
The chicken ambrosia ($15.99) was out of this world. Mom chose linguine, and the sinuous pasta intertwined with spinach, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta cheese. “What a nice combination,” she said approvingly. “Everything is so fresh.”
There were three big pieces of tender chicken breast perfectly sautéed in a white wine sauce, almost buried in the mass of pasta and vegetables. “I gotta learn how to make this,” said Mom, her highest praise.
Mom usually gives me the leftovers, but not this time. We had our dinners wrapped, and I ordered homemade rice pudding ($3.50) to go for husband Eric. We shared an order of the night’s special dessert, creme brûlée cheesecake ($5.99) from J & S Watkins. It’s served with whipped cream and sweet sauce. It’s not one of their better flavors, or as dense as we’d like, and we thought the crust was damp and dull. Eric said the rice pudding was sweet, creamy and delicious. Nice hint of nutmeg, he said. The homemade desserts are always the best, I’ve learned.
The tab for dinner came to $47.65, not including the wine or the rice pudding. Stick to the Greek specialties and you’ll be very happy, although the Italian food and fried snacks looked very good. We were treated well and with kindness, and thought the value was fair. It’s easy to see why their parking lot is busy.