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Is it just me or is finding a good place to eat in Greektown a complicated undertaking?

I am in no way suggesting that there aren't plenty of restaurants in the West Loop serving up tasty Greek food; I am simply admitting that I have a hard time distinguishing between them. Driving down Halsted, I am bombarded by the signs in front of the eateries boasting of free valet parking and rooftop decks with spectacular views, and further distracted by the crowd of tourists ambling across the street. As they page through their guidebooks and peer into the various restaurants' windows, I realize that they are trying to answer the same question that I am: Is Athena really that different from Parthenon?

Fortunately, Artopolis Bakery Café & Agora manages to stand out from the rest with its casual, cheerful atmosphere and wide-ranging, reasonably priced menu, relieving me of the stress of having to make an ill-informed decision about where to eat. If it weren't for Artopolis, I probably would avoid this neighborhood altogether.

It would be misleading to say that Artopolis is an authentic Greek restaurant; instead, I would describe it as a Mediterranean restaurant with heavy Greek influences. You won't find the typical saganaki or gyros on the menu -- perhaps this is what makes it so distinctive from its neighbors -- but you will find creative sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread, a dangerously long list of decadent desserts and more wood-fired pizzas than you can count.

Artopolis' menu is ridiculously long, but once you visit a few times it becomes a bit easier to navigate; there are some definite crowd-pleasing items that deserve a mention. I myself am hopelessly hooked on the artopitas, warm pastries filled with melted cheese and meat or veggies. A variety of combinations are available -- spinach and feta and chicken and mozzarella to name a couple -- but I am partial to the "Manitaropita," which features portabello mushroom, roasted garlic, red onion, and Emmenthal cheese. Although incredibly delicious, these flaky bakery items are by no means healthy, particularly when served with a side of potato salad (I swear they must use half a jar of mayonnaise for each serving).

Another favorite menu item is the wood-fired pizza. These individual pies are almost too large for the average hungry person to finish and come topped with any one or 20 of an inspiring list of ingredients. Where else can you get an Olympian pizza topped with spiced lamb, eggplant, tomato, roasted garlic, rosemary, spring onions, mozzarella, and feta cheese? I don't believe they serve such a thing next door.

At the noontime hour, Artopolis offers convenient lunch specials, pairing the above items with a salad or lemony chicken and rice soup. Order a Black Forest ham, dill, and Kasseri cheese artopita with a Caesar salad from the counter, grab a seat in the café, and while away your lunch hour thinking only of what you are going to order for dessert. I guarantee you won't want to return to work.

Lunches at Artopolis may be quite satisfying, but I think the best time to go is in the evening when the counter closes and friendly servers take over the dining room. In fact, I would recommend Artopolis as an excellent choice for a first date: dim lighting and balcony seating, which looks out over Halsted, make for a charming, somewhat romantic setting, and the diverse wine list (bottles average $19-$22 and wine by the glass is available) and entrees are decently priced (average $10-$12). The overall experience is impressive but not over the top.

The aforementioned artopitas and pizzas are again offered for dinner, as well as a variety of entrees, including chicken spinach lasagna and roasted leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes. The kitchen also offers a variety of rotating specials in the evening; on a recent visit, I tried the stuffed calamari -- little tubes of calamari filled with a spinach and feta cheese served with chick pea rice, all covered with a light tomato sauce.

I finished every bite of this flavorsome entree, but that didn't stop me from polishing off dessert as well. On recommendation from my server, I ordered the truly sinful Valrhona -- a scoop of rich, creamy chocolate mousse covered with dark chocolate. Should you wish to try a less indulgent dessert, there are plenty of other options, including cheesecake, baklava, and a Greek cookie plate featuring Artopolis' signature almond tea cookies.

If maneuvering around Greektown proves to be a taxing operation, I would heartily suggest Artopolis as an atypical, amiable spot to relax with a glass of Greek wine and a margherita pizza with fresh basil and mozzarella. But if you have your heart set on flaming cheese, I would suggest you go to, um, somewhere nearby.

Artopolis Bakery Café & Agora is located at 306 S. Halsted.

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Comments

Ramsin / February 29, 2004 10:59 PM

Geez Kim, we must miss each other by ten minutes every day. The last bunch of profiles you've done were all places I'd recently been too. Artopolis is one of my regular places. Ask for Frank as your server. He's my hero.

Onid / March 1, 2004 8:54 AM

As a person who is related to someone that owns a business in Greektown and is down there several times a week I am glad that non-Greeks are "discovering" Artopolis. I have been going there since the grand opening and at least they try to do something different rather than be happy serving GEE-ROS plates to the endless masses of tourists that come.

Also, I know that bread seems to be a dirty word lately but go to Artopolis and buy some bread from the bakery. It is awesome.

Onid / March 1, 2004 8:57 AM

That first sentence is a bit...clunky. "Editor Edit thyself!!!"...or something like that.

j3s / March 1, 2004 9:25 AM

I used to work in Greektown, and went to Artopolis for lunch all the time: Three bucks gets a nice bowl of chicken lemon rice soup and some of the afore-mentioned delicious bread. Or an afternoon snack of greek coffee and the best almond cookies I've ever had. Not to mention four types of mousse available from the bakery at all times...Yeah, Artopolis rocks.

 

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