In the mid-1960s, there was a Greek restaurant in downtown Toledo that discarded menus in favor of letting customers stroll into the kitchen and decide for themselves what looked and tasted good. The chef would lift the lids of the big pots bubbling on the stove so patrons could decide among the lamb shanks, soups, and stews. It was like eating at home.
The restaurant was Athans' Greek Village on Erie Street, which the founder, John Athans, eventually passed on to his manager, George Krinas, another Greek immigrant who later moved the restaurant to a couple of other downtown locations before moving on to greener pastures.
Some 40 years later, Chef Krinas and his wife, Georgia, remain in the restaurant business, this time on Glendale Avenue. He still dishes up home-cooked food, even if customers no longer have the run of the kitchen.
For a time, the place was called H.D. Charly's (as in Hot Dog Charly's), but as the eatery grew into a more family-oriented enterprise, the Krinases came up with a new name: Grandma's Country Cookin'.
Despite the corny name, the restaurant excels at good, reasonably priced comfort food, and loads of it. Besides two pages of breakfast specials, most of which can be ordered all day long, lunch and dinner (with only a $1 difference between the two) bring vast possibilities. One would have to set aside several weeks' worth of visits in order to try everything on the menu.
Among the dizzying array of choices are soups, pasta, pizzas, steaks, chops, ribs, country ham, seafood, prime rib, lamb shanks, baked, broiled, and fried chicken, chili mac, Mexican, Polish, Irish, and Hungarian dishes, burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches of all kinds. This is just the kind of food that Grandma indeed used to make.
True to George Krinas' roots, Greek dishes get their just due with the likes of pastitsio (Greek lasagna), gyros, Greek-style baked spaghetti, baklava, a "Greek Sailor" platter of spinach pie, salad, rice, and pita bread, and a "Greek Hillbilly" breakfast combining olive oil, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and home fries crowned with melted cheese and two eggs.
The physical layout oddly resembles the inside of a cruise ship, what with its angled pillars, ocean-blue walls, and what might be regarded as cabins of various-sized nooks and crannies where prints of Norman Rockwell works overlook the booths and tables. There's also a counter with stools, and the attentive servers are more likely than not to address you as "Sweetie," "Honey," or "Hon."
With such an intimidating menu before us, we picked a handful of dishes that cried out for attention. At the top of the lunch list, all priced around $6, were supremely tasty baked chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and a heap of American goulash covered with cheese. Also scoring high were a sensational bowl of beef tips and noodles, the meat Crockpot-tender amid an avalanche of noodles and vegetables, plus a thick slab of meat loaf and mashed potatoes drowning in divine dark gravy.
Later came a decent cup of chicken noodle soup but a somewhat rubbery cup of New England clam chowder (both $1.99 a cup, $2.89 a bowl); a large chili mac ($5.79) undone by too much cheese, and a variety of hot dogs ($1.49-$1.99), from Chicago-style to Polish sausage and kraut. I opted for the coney dogs; piled high with chili sauce, they rank among the best in town.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.