CHILLICOTHE — The restaurant scene in this small 'burg north of Peoria has expanded and diversified in recent years. But some of the old mainstays haven't lost their step.
Grecian Gardens, 304 S. Plaza Park, has been such a fixture since the late '70s. The vast space in a shopping center at the southern end of town is still divided between the restaurant proper and a bar, with an attached lounge open only on Fridays and Saturdays with an identical menu.
The restaurant side, where we sat, is nicely homey and boasts a few paintings and other wall decorations meant to evoke Greece.
Make no mistake, it's not all Greek cuisine. Perusing the menu on a recent weekday night when the restaurant was about half full and seating was swift, it became clear that they mix plenty of standards — steaks, seafood, chops, sandwiches — alongside comfort food like roast beef and baked ham, with a section for Greek offerings.
We split the difference on our appetizers, trying the breaded mushrooms ($6.79), which are a from-the-bag offering, and the saganaki ($8.99). The salty Greek cheese, flamed in brandy (and set ablaze in the kitchen rather than table-side, in recognition of the sometimes-close quarters) comes with triangles of pita bread to scoop it up from the sizzling platter.
Alongside those choices, I had a glass of sweet Lambrusco wine ($4.95), and my guest had a strawberry margarita ($5.95) and good, if from a mix.
My guest had the seafood platter ($15.99), a substantial platter with a fried filet of flaky perch and another of cod, with a smattering of breaded shrimp and scallops as well, accompanied by cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. It comes with a side salad — an impressively weighty plate in its own right — leaving plenty of leftovers for a second meal.
Meanwhile, my eye wandered to the Greek portion of the menu, alighting on the lamb chops ($20.99). The trio of chops arrived seasoned with lemon and oregano and grilled just right — nice and tender, accompanied by rice. I selected soup rather than salad, and had a cup of chicken and rice in a decadently thick broth.
Another friend who joined us also veered to the Mediterranean menu options, selecting the souvlaki ($16.49). The delectable skewer of pork chunks, in that same mixture of oregano and lemon, was mouth-watering, and on my list for a return visit.
The pacing was excellent, with ample but not excessive time between when the waitress took our drink orders, brought our appetizers, our salads and soup, our entrees, and then our take-home boxes at the end. With that much food, you'll need the latter — and you'll appreciate every bite even on the second day.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.