Less accessible to tourists than Little Italy, Greektown has experienced more ups and downs but has been steadily resurgent of late, and even with the arrival of places like the Habanero Grill, it still feels like a family affair here.
After more than 20 years, the Acropolis remains something of the eternal middle child in the neighborhood. It might never attain the elder status of an Ikaros, the Greek restaurant that most defines Greektown to outsiders. But neither was it ever a bargain-dining find like Samos or a foodie darling like Zorba's, two of its younger neighbors. But Acropolis has its own conservative charms. It has not one jot of pretense and appears to want to do nothing more than offer its customers a good meal in pleasant surroundings.
The first thing you notice about Acropolis when you walk in is how very brightly lit it is. The main stucco-walled dining areas - trimmed in pretty Aegean blue, tables neatly dressed - would strike just about the perfect balance between formal and family style if they weren't lit so harshly. The message sent, at least to a first-time visitor, is that the Acropolis caters to a diner, one who doesn't like too much in the way of change, and not much at all in the way of pretension, dim lighting included. That's not really a bad message to send, or to receive - sometimes we want a well-ordered universe.
The only downside would be that it might steer new diners away from taking a chance on more compelling fare, like the fresh-fish specials that were inserted in the menu. These might be top-flight, but we barely considered them, moving quickly to the hall-of-fame lineup.
This proved to be a good strategy, for the most part. The kitchen here sends out generous servings of wholesome and satisfying food. This was especially true of the entrees but also of a lovely spinach pie appetizer, which showed off both the kitchen's fine phyllo skills and a less-is-more approach to seasoning that characterized the whole meal. When the conservative approach misses the mark, as with an overly big and coarsely textured taramasalata appetizer, it's because portion size seems to have been favored over nuance. I would have traded it in for something half its size but smoother and lighter. A third appetizer shows the problems of holding to a restaurant tradition for its own sake. A saganaki dish, dramatically flambeed at table side, worked just well enough with its oozing texture and sour flavors. But the version of saganaki in which the cheese is fried golden in its own saganaki pan, though lacking in theater, makes for more memorable eating.
The entrees we tried, a flawless pastitsio and one of the handful of prominently listed lamb dishes, showed off Acropolis at its home-cooking best. The pastitsio, with its aromatically seasoned ground beef layered with firm macaroni under a fine bechamel sauce, satisfies in every way. It tastes even better the next day. The lamb dish, lamb kapama, was even better - tenderly braised and flavorfully herbed meat paired with firm, roasted tomatoes and fresh-cut string beans, this was one of those delectably good, slow-cooked dishes in which traditional ways work best. It made us, first of all, want to come back and work our way down the roasted, broiled, and kabobed lamb menu. But the quality of both the ingredients and their preparation suggested taking a chance sometime with the fish and seafood dishes, both on and off the regular menu.
The desserts, things like creamy rice pudding and feather-light galaktoboureko, custard-filled phyllo pockets, are very good here and go down well with a cup of very strong Greek coffee. Unlike some of its neighbors, Acropolis struck me as the kind of place that caters to a mostly regular crowd. If new diners are welcomed here with something less than Zorba-like enthusiasm, by meal's end, the restaurant and the new diners will have warmed up to each other.
On the menu
•Taramasalata - $4
•Spinach pie - $4.50
•Saganaki - $6.95
•Braised lamb - $12.95
•Pastitsio - $11.95
•Rice pudding - $2.25
•Galaktoboureko - $2.25
Acropolis Restaurant Where:
4718 Eastern Ave., Highlandtown
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Credit cards: MC, VISA, AMEX
Food: ** 1/2
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]