For 10 years, a little hideaway called Athenian Garden off Route 9 has been serving up the most authentic Greek cuisine you’ll find on this side of the Atlantic.
Route 9 careens through rural northern Atlantic County like a serpent bent on returning to water.
Tucked into a friendly curve on that historic roadway, just within tiny Conovertown in Galloway Township, you will find the Athenian Garden restaurant. Owned and operated by the Psounos family — husband and wife Nick and Roula, and sons Lambros, 31, and Andreas, 25 — this charming roadside establishment has been open since May 2003.
Possessing the warmth and comfort of a Mediterranean tavern, its interiors feature rustic woods and soft beige tones. To the rear sits an extensive garden providing fresh herbs like thyme, oregano, basil and marjoram, all vital to the cuisine served.
Along with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and a number of fruit trees — black mission fig, pear and quince among them — the verdant space conveys an atmosphere of welcome and conviviality.
This only continues upon entry to the eatery itself. The building has been wisely designed so that the very first visual a customer receives is their extensive cold case, laden with gorgeous, multihued vegetables and delectably prepared foods.
Like a quartet of dips sampled — melitzanosalata, a blend “similar to baba ganoush” according to both Roula and Andreas; skordalia, a garlic and almond spread; traditional humus, composed of chick peas; and tzatziki, the ubiquitous dairy condiment so prevalent throughout the middle East.
We were particularly enamored of melitzanosalata, which had been aerated enough to produce a refined, truly mousse-like, smooth texture and mouth feel. Roula describes the process required.
“It’s like a whole-day ritual,” she says.
Eggplants, a notoriously difficult veggie to correctly prepare, are slowly roasted, allowed to fully cool and then scooped until hollow. Blended with olive oil, almonds and seasonings, this version was nothing short of manna, centrally utilizing a perfectly seasonal ingredient as well. Served alongside fresh house-made bread and pitas, these elevated creations alone could suffice as a lovely, midsummer repast, loaded with flavor and incredibly healthful.
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