Eat Beat: Baklava and Beyond
Mr. Original Gyros just got more original.
The recently opened Athena's Cafe, attached to Boone's popular Greek eatery, promises to serve ambrosia and nectar of the gods.
In modern speak, that translates to Greek desserts and coffee.
"This is what I grew up with," owner Harry Lainas said, referring to a colorful array of handcrafted Greek pastries straight from the kitchen of his aunt, Maria.
And her standards are taut, adhering to Greek tradition from the Lainases' homeland. Maria and sister Toula (Lainas's mother) learned the recipes from their mother, Lainas said, meaning, "Most are made by how they did it in their home village (Loutraki)."
The cafe is named after the goddess Athena, in honor of the Lainas family roots in Athens, where the cuisine is practically as rich as the culture.
"And there are over 20 different varieties of pastries we have," Lainas said.
So, don't expect the standard variety. In other words, expect something original.
As a for instance, "Cream fillings are done in the original style, not cheaply whipped, and our filo dough is original, handmade," Lainas said. "It's a variety in how she puts it together - really rich, premium pastries. The taste is completely different - not like some typical sponge cake - and really light on the belly."
In addition to the traditional Greek desserts, other pastries have been tweaked for an American audience, including Lainas's favorite, the Greek cannoli.
"It's perfect," he said. "Pretty big, but light, puffed and stuffed with rich cream."
Throw in homemade tsoureki sweet bread, which Lainas recommends using for divine French toast, and Athena's setting the table for coffee and then some.
Lainas's fiancee, Alexandra Mesa, serves as barista, using Boone-based Conrad's Coffee to create a variety of espresso drinks.
"Conrad's also going to roast two unique blends to match our pastries," Lainas said.
The cafe's offering something else to match the pastries - ice cream in six flavors. Mr. Original diners can try for themselves, each getting a free scoop - gratis, at that - for dessert throughout the month.
It's Athena's way of thanking her people, and Lainas's way of thanking his loyal customers from the past nine years.
Originally located near the Ingle's shopping center on N.C. 105, Mr. Original moved down the road toward the N.C. 105 Bypass in March 2009, completing an extensive renovation that's as flavorful as its menu. And with Blimpie Subs having closed, Lainas seized the opportunity to further expand his business.
Mr. Original's hand-painted murals, aquariums, waterfalls and Greek memorabilia have extended into Athena's Cafe for a decor that's not only distinct, but clever.
Diners can watch fish swim beneath their coffee cups at a U-shaped community table that doubles as a giant aquarium, while young and old can attempt to find 14 well-hidden objects (Lainas admits only having found 10) in the Greek mural that lines the cafe walls, painted by area artist Terri Bailey.
This, along with free WiFi and outdoor seating, lends a comfortable atmosphere for those looking to relax, while a 7 a.m. opening time caters toward those on the go.
"People are loving it," Lainas said. "It's breathtaking, they say, relaxing. We try to keep everything comfortable for our customers. They're the ones who've kept us going."
And Athena hopes to return the favor. Cafe hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Mr. Original Gyros and Athena Cafe are located at 2968 N.C. 105 South.
For more information, call (828) 268-9899 or visit http://www.mroriginalgyros.com.
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