The Zeus Cafe is plain and simple, but the food's good

Restaurant is just a block from heart of Fells Point


Dining Reviews Hot Stuff

April 21, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Zeus Cafe has no clever slogans, no "signature dishes" and not much in the way of atmosphere. In a city rich with diners, where so many have acquired a certain self-conscious, sometimes irritating whimsy, this small restaurant is about as straightforward as a diner can be.

Zeus serves basic Greek and American dishes at rock-bottom prices. Located just one crucial block from the heart of Fells Point, Zeus lacks the retro appeal of the nearby Jimmy's, which enjoys a better location but has a similar menu. And it doesn't have a phonebook-sized menu like the Double T restaurants that dot the region.

But Zeus has stayed in business for five years now by offering just the kind of sustenance that people seem to crave at all hours, particularly the wee hours of the morning - burgers, pancakes, omelets, spinach pie and other diner staples.

About the fanciest thing on the menu is a surf and turf consisting of a New York strip steak, a crab cake and fried jumbo shrimp. Meatloaf, pork chops and spaghetti with meat sauce are more this restaurant's speed. A liquor license doesn't hurt, either. Zeus serves beer, hard lemonade and a few other drinks.

Steve Armenis, who owns the diner with his parents, Angela and Spiros Armenis, said he named the restaurant Zeus because that was the nickname given to him by American co-workers years ago.

The Greek god poses on the cover of the restaurant's laminated menu, boasting the most impressive set of abs this side of a Men's Health magazine article, and the back of the menu tells a little story about "the most powerful of the immortal Olympian Gods."

Whatever. It's a small attempt to give the restaurant a theme, but this isn't exactly a restaurant striving for Olympic heights of culinary glory.

Zeus couldn't be more down- to-earth, with its cigarette machines and video games by the door and pink-upholstered stools by the counter. Decor is little more than a row of tables lining one wall, and a dessert case filled with individual slices of cheesecake and pies in plastic containers.

Yet the food is consistently good. Pancakes, an important diner staple, are thick and fluffy, with that distinctive buttermilk tang. They come with bacon, ham, sausage or scrapple.

Burgers are satisfyingly uncomplicated, though on the thin side and served on fairly boring buns. Don't bother requesting anything other than well-done, because Zeus serves its burgers and any other meat well-done. The fries are perfectly browned and generously mounded on the plate, though not salty enough. Of course, that's easy to fix.

Eating Greek seems like a good idea at a place called Zeus. A "Zeus omelette" with chunks of spicy gyro meat, feta cheese and tomato, is a delicious combination of flavors. It comes with crisply fried hash browns and toast.

One of the best items is a souvlaki made with chicken and lamb. The marinated slices of meat are served sizzling hot, nestled in a warm, thick pita. Their heat and spice contrast perfectly with the cool salad of shredded iceberg, onion and yogurt dressing on top. Throw a mound of those yummy fries on the plate and you have a feast.

Desserts are hit-or-miss. A cheesecake with a delicate graham crust and a sour cream-tinged filling was a hit, but a black forest cake with cherry filling was a miss.

Part of the fun of eating at Zeus is watching the Fells Point characters come and go. And when the restaurant isn't busy, the servers can be entertaining. They're always helpful but still find time to gossip and giggle with each other.

Zeus Cafe

Where: 435 S. Broadway, Fells Point

Call: 410-675-0400

Open: 7 a.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday, 24 hours Friday and Saturday

Prices: Salads and sides $1.75-$8.95, entrees $3.50-$19.95

Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Atmosphere: ** (2 stars)

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