“Hangin’ on the corner of 52nd and Broadway
Cars passin’ by, but none of ’em seem to go my way
An’ New York City, well I wish I was on a highway
Back to Olympia”
–“Olympia, WA,” written by Tim Armstrong, Matt Freeman, and Lars Frederiksen
With all due respect to legendary punk band Rancid and their ABSOLUTELY FLAWLESS 1995 album “…And Out Come the Wolves,” I only shared the chorus lyrics from that wistful song because I too wish I was on a highway back to Olympia, but a very different one than the one they meant.
Olympia Restaurant (https://www.olympiaorlando.com/) is Orlando’s oldest Greek restaurant, founded in 1979. I’ve been a few times over the years, but not nearly often enough. On my most recent visit, with a new co-worker and friend who loves the place, I realized that I need to return a lot more frequently. This guy is an accomplished attorney who also plays drums in the ska-punk band Sucker Punch, so he’s basically one of the coolest people I know. (And I don’t just say that because I’m an ex-ska-punk musician myself.) He’s an Orlando native who has been a regular at Olympia his entire life, and if you know Olympia, you can tell it’s the kind of local institution that would retain regulars through the decades.
On past visits, I’ve ordered the gyro lunch special many times, which comes with outstanding fries. And as a big sardine eater (some folks call me the Dean of Sardines*), I’ve enjoyed Olympia’s marides, or fried smelts — small, sardine-like fish that are lightly breaded and fried until crispy. Unfortunately they were out of smelts on my most recent visit back in February, but the allure of fried seafood was hard to overcome.
When I asked about the fried kalamari, our server enthusiastically told us it was the best in town. I think it has to be up there among the best, if not the best. This huge and satisfying appetizer portion was only $8, and the squid were fried to crispy perfection, still tender and not overcooked to the point of being chewy and rubbery. I really liked the fried onions and green peppers the kalamari came tossed with, and the rich tomato sauce that was perfect for dipping. I’ve become enough of a squid fan that I’ve made it at home a few times, but never fried like this. Olympia may have inspired me to try it, but I’d usually rather leave breading and frying to the seasoned professionals — no pun intended.
My friend chose the Greek salad with his lunch, which was fresh and colorful, with nice shreds of feta cheese and a kalamata olive plunked in the middle:
And he ordered the gyro dinner ($13), which came with a generous portion of rice topped with tomato sauce, some of my favorite pita bread anywhere, and excellent fresh tzatziki sauce for dipping:
I chose the soup of the day, lentil soup, with my lunch. I’ve become a huge lentil soup fan, especially since you can make infinite variations of it, and lentils are healthy, versatile, cheap, and delicious.
And as tempted as I was by a gyro, I ordered one of my favorite dishes that is much harder to find on menus: pastitsio ($13), which is like the Greek version of lasagna. It is made with long, uncut ziti noodles, ground beef or lamb, a creamy bechamel sauce, and topped with a rich and zesty tomato sauce. I loved it. It came with nice, crunchy green beans on the side, a vegetable I rarely order but usually enjoy.
A cross-section of this architectural marvel:
Long-time Saboscrivner readers might remember I ordered the pastitsio at Theo’s Kitchen back in the summer of 2018. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone would remember that detail, and I would be a little concerned if I had obsessive superfans who did. But the dish is rare enough on menus, even at Greek restaurants, that I always love to try everyone’s different versions. Olympia’s pastitsio was definitely the better of the two.
This visit with my friend made me realize I need to work Olympia back into my regular restaurant rotation. It has withstood the test of time serving all the classic Greek dishes almost as long as I’ve been alive — over 40 years. With the restaurant business so tenuous even in the best of times, that’s a colossal accomplishment, worthy of praise and continued support. When my work reopens, it’s close enough that I can and will swing by whenever I want.
But now more than ever, in this difficult time where restaurants are limited to takeout orders, consider dropping by and placing an order, whether you’re a returning regular or just happen to be craving Herculean portions of Greek food. (See what I did there?) Your takeout lunch or dinner will ascend to new, godlike heights at Olympia. (See what I did there?)
*Nobody calls me the Dean of Sardines. YET.
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