Disclaimer: This restaurant has closed.
Last night’s dining experience resulted in fisticuffs. While sitting in the restaurant, these drunken guys across from us would not shut up and they wouldn’t leave the darling little waitress alone. So, my friend mumbled something in Greek and it was all over but the “uh, oh!” I remember my friend saying that he knew how to swear in Greek and if he said something that someone understood, we probably would have to run. ["Hello," "My name is Pete," "I'm lost in the god-forsaken town and it would be wonderful if I could sleep on your couch tonight," and "Where is the bathroom?" are no longer the first things we learn in other languages. It's how to run the risk of getting a bar of soap shoved into our mouths.] The guys were Greek and ready for action. Having eaten too much, I was not nimble enough to put some ju jit su on them and leave them all scattered on the floor. No, I took the extreme approach. I grabbed a knife, stuck it under the main guy’s chin, and told him, “Get on the table and do the funky chicken or I’ll cut that god awful Hawaiian shirt to shreds.” There were sirens, cops, handcuffs, and the manager running after us screaming, “You still have to settle your bill.” The alarm clock went off and I woke up. I tend to have bad dreams after I eat too much food.
When the weather is nice in Chicago and there being so many restaurants to accommodate a lifetime of eating, my food companion and I ventured into Greek Town just due west of the Loop. We decided this time to take a different approach to finding a restaurant. Instead of going with one we had already pre-selected, we simply walked over to Greek Town and did a brief scan of the restaurants before deciding on one. If I could pick lottery numbers the way we have been picking outstanding restaurants, I’d quit my job, hire a marching band to march around the place playing “Take This Job and Shove It,” and ride off into the sunset with a Cheshire cat smile. We went to Venus, a Cypriot Greek restaurant at 820 West Jackson and like the goddess — who is Roman, by the way — this restaurant was just as wonderful.
Light and airy, but not like a biscuit, Venus has the setting of your usual huge Stepford restaurant, but the food is the charm that makes the visit worthwhile. Another plus, is that Greeks frequent the place. That has truly become the sign of just how bona fide the restaurant is. [I learned that going to my share of Chinese restaurants that proclaimed to be "just like back home," but always produced an exaggerated grimace from Chinese who were right off the plane from "back home."] Well, I guess you can tell from my preamble that this was another dining success.
We received green olives and complementary sesame seed bread that did not have the Pepperidge Farm taste to it. If the bread is home made and fresh, you know you’re off to a good start. To round that out, we ordered appetizers of scordalia, saganaki halloumi, and koupepia. “What?” you ask. The scordalia is their homemade garlic spread, mashed chick peas with a non-offensive hint of garlic. We used that as a spread on the bread. In Pennsylvania Dutch, it would be “spread the bread, us some scordalia.” The saganaki hollouomi is imported Greek cheese flamed in brandy at the table. I threw out all of my Kraft cheese products when I got home, out of respect for how delectable the scordalia was. The koupepia are grape leaves stuffed with ground pork and rice, served with home made yogurt. Let the people say,”Yum!”
Aside: My paternal grandmother’s second husband used to make a Haitian delicacy called mashi. Whereas the koupepia comes wrapped in grape leaves, mashi’s wrap is cabbage. Who would have ever thought that Greeks and Haitians had something in common? Hmm.
For entrées, we did our usual ordering of two dishes to split for the sake of cultural dining. We ordered a grilled Atlantic salmon served with sautéed spinach and vegetable rice. I have never been one for liking spinach. I could never figure out why Popeye loved it so much. Eating it at Venus has changed my mind. The other entrée we ordered was a kleftiko, which was lamb wrapped in foil, show-baked for six hours to perfection and served with oven baked potatoes. No, we were not there for six hours, although I think I could set a record if I paced myself. Hell, whom am I kidding? For those of you spitting, wiping your tongues, and clutching your bellies because you’re thinking about the slices from slabs of lamb in greasy gyros, this lamb was good enough to make you want to boycott those side shops selling sloppy gyros. The lamb was so tender that you could cut it with a plastic fork. That’s right. I said plastic fork. Let the people say, “Yum!”
One of the managers, who had been doing a customary walk of the restaurant, came by the table after we had finished the entrées and were waiting for the dessert menu. She asked if we enjoyed the food and was somewhat miffed at our blank stares. I am sure that people usually answer with bright eyes and great eagerness after their meals. We were having difficulty keeping our eyes open and we still had to think about dessert. After we explained to the manager that we were intoxicated with all the munch-worthy morsels, I could see a twinkle in her eyes. I bet she was saying in a Transylvanian accent, “Yes, more satisfied customers. They’ll return and then again and then again for some more. Bwahahahaha!” Imagine a woman giggling like a mad scientist, wringing her hands, and drooling at knowing we were now addicted.
Because we had eaten so much for appetizers and the main course, we could only bring ourselves to order one dessert. With their dessert menu, the decision was too hard. No, it was not hard to make a decision. It was hard pronouncing the sweets. We settled for the hardest one to say — the galaktoboureko. This orange flavoured custard was truly a slice of heaven. Every time we put a forkful of it in our mouths, you could hear a chorus of angels singing and see a ray of light shining down upon us from heaven. Some woman behind us was eating one with her dining companion and she got so excited that she stood up, screamed “Opaa,” and then smashed a dish on the floor. Now, why would she do something like that? Management had her escorted out of the restaurant. When I was a stubborn child and refused to eat all of my food, my parents used to say, “Children in Africa are starving and you’re throwing away good food.” Well, I remembered those words and as soon as the “excited” woman and her friend were gone, I slid over to their table, snatched their unfinished galaktoboureko, and slid back to my table to make sure that “good food was not going to waste.” Ain’t I a stinka?
For individuals who love to take full advantage of a restaurant, Venus is a recommended one to put on your food list. You can be price conscious and enjoy a good meal at this restaurant. Picking at the food on your plate is a crime punishable by spanking, though. Wait. Scratch that thought. Some people take great delight in titillating punishment. Venus gives huge portions, and this is good and it’s bad. It’s good from the standpoint that you never walk away disappointed at having received just a mere dollop of food on the plate. It’s bad from the standpoint that you may walk away stuffed to capacity and have bad dreams like I usually do. I also tend to have drunkard tendencies when I eat too much: hiccupping, staggering when I walk, slurring of speech, incoherence, unnecessary babbling, sleeping like a drunk. Who would have ever thought that a crap shoot selection would turn out such belly-stuffing results? Let the people say, “Yum!”