I'm particular about my diner vibes. I like it to be bustling, but not so bustling that it takes forever to get seated. I like the atmosphere to be friendly, but not so friendly that you lose relative anonymity.
Athens Restaurant in Cheektowaga checked all my “perfect diner vibes” boxes. It’s the type of place where you can get in, get seated and get down to the business of eating good food on the cheap.
That’s precisely why, I imagine, Athens has endured. For more than three decades, it’s been a fixture on Harlem Road in Cheektowaga. As the world around it changed, Athens remained, serving plate after plate of satisfying food to hungry diners. (Prior to being Athens, it was Allen’s restaurant.)
On a recent blissful 60-degree day, we set out to explore Athens. I would attribute the droves of diners to the weather, but from what we gathered, Athens is that busy all the time. It attracts a real cross-section of people: police officers, moms with children, senior citizens, young professionals, various friend groups.
Once seated, our server, Leah, popped over. With her sunny style, she added plenty more good vibes to an already positive experience. She shared the menu highlights — souvlaki, no surprise there — and impressed us by sharing what not to get. (We appreciated her honesty.)
Like many area Greek restaurants, Athens offers the traditional food along with a plethora of other options. We ordered the Big Breakfast ($11.99) including two eggs, home fries, toast, meat and choice of pancakes or French toast; beef souvlaki pita wrap ($8.99); open souvlaki with spanakopita ($10.99); lemon soup ($3.99); and a side of chicken souvlaki meat ($5.99).
The food came fast, and was generously portioned. The soup was pungent with lemon, making a nice prelude.
The Big Breakfast is a good deal for the enormous amount of food. My frequent gripe about home fries is that they aren’t crispy. These, by pleasing contrast, sported a praise-worthy crisp. Unfortunately, the onions appeared to be haphazardly scooped on top, and rather than being brought to a golden caramelization, they were practically raw.
But, aside from the onions, the Big Breakfast is a solid bet. The French toast was a sweet ending, serving as a syrup-drenched breakfast dessert cap.
The souvlaki wrap and open souvlaki both presented prettily, and both would hit the “I’m-craving-souvlaki” mark without any trouble. The standout, however, was the spanakopita. Layers of buttery phyllo dough held layer after flaky layer of spinach, feta and egg. It was excellent.
A return visit would have us trying the country fried steak ($11.99), which I’d heard good things about, along with rice pudding ($3.99) and some of the offerings from the dessert case ($3.99-$5.99).
I get the feeling that Athens is, for many people, like a stalwart grandma, someone who you can rely on, who holds no surprises and who will, during the best and worst of times, always welcome you with open arms.
Address: 2801 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga (892-5019)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Parking: ample parking in the lot.
Gluten-free options: GF sandwich bread.