Lakeland: Athenian Restaurant

My wife and I had lunch at Athenian Restaurant in Lakeland recently. For a long time, we didn’t even know a restaurant was there. It’s on the far side of a strip mall in Lakeland, and even though we’ve been to that mall several times, the restaurant’s location kept it hidden from us.

Athenian Restaurant exterior in Lakeland, Florida

It’s a classic diner arranged in two smallish dining areas. Some might find the interior a little dated, but it was all spotless during our visit. Service was pleasant, not super welcoming, but they were pretty busy at the time. We both had iced tea to drink.

Athenian Restaurant interior in Lakeland, Florida

The menu offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, and dinner entrees, including seafood and spaghetti, as well as some Greek items such as gyros and souvlaki. (They do serve breakfast but we were there for lunch.) My wife ordered a Reuben sandwich. If you’ve ever wondered why the Reuben is capitalized, it’s because it’s generally believed to have first been served by either a person named Reuben or at a restaurant called Reuben’s Delicatessen. Either way, this Reuben, like most of the sandwiches at Athenian, are served by themselves and require an upcharge to add French fries or another side. My wife ordered onion rings with hers. The Reuben was quite good, with a generous amount of corned beef. The bread was a light rye bread. Just the right amount of sauerkraut, enough to add flavor but not enough to overwhelm the sandwich. It came with Thousand Island dressing on the side (Thousand Island dressing is also capitalized, because it comes from the Thousand Islands region along the St. Lawrence River.) The onion rings were also good, not too heavily battered and not greasy. There weren’t a lot of onion rings, but they were large, so there were plenty.

Reuben sandwich with onion rings at Athenian Restaurant in Lakeland, Florida

I ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich. I was impressed that they included poutine on the menu, so I ordered that for my side. The sandwich itself was a generous portion. It came with a tomato slice, iceberg lettuce, and mayo. At first I felt the sandwich was a bit lacking in flavor, but I had half leftover for lunch the next day, and on revisiting I actually feel it was quite good. The breading gave it some crispiness but was not spicy or greasy.

Pork tenderloin sandwich at Athenian Restaurant in Lakeland, Florida

If you’re not familiar with poutine, it’s a dish we had for the first time during a trip to Montreal this past summer. Poutine originated in the Canadian province of Quebec, so

Poutine at Restaurant Mache in Montreal, Canada
“Serious” poutine from Restaurant Mache in Montreal

we had several types of poutine in Montreal, low-end to high-end. The basic dish is French fries covered with gravy (typically just “brown” gravy) and topped with cheese. “Authentic” poutine uses cheese curds, whereas Athenian used shredded cheese. This is the first place in Polk County where I’ve even seen poutine offered. On the quality scale this was actually better than I expected. Yes, it’s probably jut canned gravy, but the flavor was surprisingly good. I think most people either love poutine or hate it. If you’re a poutine fan, Athenian Restaurant is the place to go. I didn’t expect such a large portion, so I shared some with my wife but still had some leftover.

Poutine (French fries, gravy, and cheese) at Athenian Restaurant in Lakeland, Florida

With tip our total was $33. On the one hand, we felt the quality of food was a bit better at Highland City Diner for a lower price. On the other hand, we both had leftovers from Athenian Restaurant, so it ended up being more than one meal. So overall we enjoyed Athenian and would go back. Athenian Restaurant is in the Central Park Plaza strip mall in Lakeland, at the corner of Sikes Boulevard and Ariana Street. Enjoy!

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