Fact: A large number of Jacksonville's most delicious restaurants are tucked away into unassuming little strip malls. While I am sure there is a myriad of reasons for this phenomenon, I think most of us have just learned to accept it. Athen's Cafe most definitely falls into this category - a hidden gem. They are located just south of University Boulevard on St. Augustine Road, in the Dupont Station Shopping Center, tucked away into a corner. As soon as you walk in the front door of Athen's Cafe, you know you're going to have a great time. The restaurant is decorated in true Greek style with a fantastic mix of sculpture, kitsch, and religious items and icons that lets you know you're about to experience an authentic Greek meal.
The menu at Athen's Cafe represents a range of Greek cooking styles and Mediterranean cuisine. A nice touch is that home baked bread and a really tasty herbed dipping oil is served when you sit down, setting the tone for the wonderful meal experience you are about to have. Some suggestions on the menu? The Lamb Shank ($20), the Chicken Souvlaki (pictured - $16), and the Papoutsakia ($15). All meals are served with either salad or soup, and a side like Orzo or fresh spinach. I will say that, hands down however, my favorite item on the Athen's Cafe menu is their Lentil Soup (again, I have an obsession with good soup). The broth Athen's Cafe uses has a wonderful flavor and aroma with lots of garlic and bay leaf, which when combined with the lentils makes for an amazing creation. While this may seem like a simple item, soup is a great way to tell how a restaurant does seasoning and flavor, as well as how much care and time they put into their dishes. I can tell you this, Athen's Cafe cooks from the heart! Also, try a Greek wine while dining at Athen's Cafe to put a shine on the night. There are some delicious Greek wines ranging from the sweet to the dry that can please any palate and match any meal.
Now, if you are not familiar with Greek cuisine, or don't have an awesome Greek pal by the name of George Thanos who can tell you what things are and then make fun of you for asking, you should ask the wait staff about any dishes you are curious about. They are fully prepared and ready to give a full description of any dish on the menu or special board. They are very gracious and have answered what Dolmathes are a million times over.
The evening we went to Athen's Cafe, it was a Friday night and very busy. We had an angel of a waitress who, though she was extremely busy, did a great job of tending to us. The meal was excellent, and the fact that we had a coupon from the Entertainment Book didn't hurt either. Overall, I would recommend Athen's Cafe to anyone wanting to have a fun and delicious ethnic experience. The atmosphere is delightful, the wait staff is fun and animated, and the food is delicious. Food is always a great way to learn about other cultures and etnicities, so why not get out there and support Jacksonville's Ethnic Restaurants! Athen's Cafe is located at:
6271 Saint Augustine Road
Jacksonville, FL 32217