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Posted Sunday, May 1, 2011

Corinthian is a Greek restaurant in Clifton, located at 3253 Jefferson Ave. It's around the corner and a few blocks from Adriatico's Pizza. In recent years, the owner became a franchisee of "The Original Pizza Pan", which explains why both Corinthian and Pizza Pan signs adorn the same address.

Parking is available across the street in an ample lot, but it's a bit of a treacherous cross on this busy stretch of Jefferson Avenue, so be careful.

This was only our second visit to Corinthian: the last time was more than 10 years ago. We don't remember much of that visit, except for the fact that we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Upon entering I immediately recalled the spacious dining room with its large skylight high above, giving it an open, atrium feel. The central, hardwood floor is apparently the site of many dances; there was sound equipment off to one side and we understand Corinthian offers Latin dance music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Corinthian's decor doesn't look like it's changed much in the couple decades since it first opened: there are Grecian-themed paintings and horse-drawn chariot wall hangings; copies of familiar Greek sculptures; hanging and potted plants; tacky blue Christmas lights draped over a small tree; rich burgundy clothed chairs. A bar tucked in one corner is walled off by a thatched wood, cross-weave partition popularized in the 80's. A TV there blared an episode of "Wheel of Fortune."

Once again, no one was eating dinner here, which made me a little nervous. We were greeted by a woman who appeared from behind the bar. She gave us our pick of any seat and handed out both an American menu (Pizza Pan) and a Greek/Mediterranean menu. We gravitated toward the latter.

On the Mediterranean side, signature Greek appetizers included Tyropitas (feta cheese wrapped in filo dough); Spanakopitas (spinach in filo dough); and Dolmades (a beef and rice filling wrapped in a grape leaf and topped with a light lemon sauce). Entrees and "House Specialties" included frog legs, Eggplant Parmesan, and Greek classic dishes like Souvlaki (charbroiled pork tenderloin) and Moussaka (a casserole-like dish with layers of eggplant, potatoes and ground beef topped with a Béchamel sauce and then baked).

Our waitress was very helpful and a bit disarmingly genuine. She offered sincere advice on menu options and didn't exhibit a lot of that faux exuberance some waitresses tend to adopt when they're on the clock. How refreshing.

We started off with an order of the Tyropitas. The two triangular pieces arrived warm. The filo was light and flaky with a hint of salty feta in the middle. They awoke our hunger immediately.

Tyropitas from Corinthian

A nearby table soon filled with a group of about six people. Thank goodness, I thought, we now have safety in numbers.

Corinthian's entrees come with small salads, usually with Greek dressing served on the side. I'm not a salad person and these were typical versions made with iceberg lettuce, black olives, cucumber, shaved carrots, shredded cheese and a single tomato wedge.

Salad Corinthian

My girlfriend chose the Eggplant Parmesan entree, a large breaded slab of thinly-sliced eggplant topped with marinara and a provolone/Parmesan cheese combo. It was also served with a side of spaghetti and marinara. The portion size looked huge. She enjoyed the spaghetti and marinara but was disappointed there wasn't much eggplant flavor --it had too high a ratio of breading to eggplant.

Eggplant Parmesan from Corinthian

I chose the "Greek Combo" of house specialties, which included "Pastisto" (aka Pastitsio or Pasticcio), a Greek "lasagna" with baked pasta, meat and Béchamel sauce; a slab of Moussaka; and two Dolmades.

We've eaten both Moussaka and Pastitsio in Greece, and these versions were similar, with the notable exception that here in the States, they are typically prepared with ground beef instead of lamb. They tasted a bit heavier than their Grecian counterparts, but still satisfying. The two grape leaf-wrapped Dolmades had good flavor, moist and saucy on the outside, which counteracted the slightly dry rice-and-beef filling.

Greek Combo of Pastisto, Moussaka and Dolmades from Corinthian

For dessert, we had eagerly awaited our Baklava, the richly sweet, filo dough pastry filled with minced nuts and soaked in honey. Alas, the pieces we got were very much on the chewy side; we tried cutting into them with a fork with no success; then with a knife with similar results. We finally resorted to eating them with our hands.

Baklava from Corinthian

Overall our food at Corinthian was decent, though entrees seemed a tad overpriced. It's fairly solid Greek fare, but nothing spectacular. I left with a sense that the owner has been preparing these dishes the same way for more than twenty years, with no intention of tweaking the food or decor. Perhaps that would be a good policy if one's restaurant were outrageously popular.

The lack of patrons left me with the conclusion that Corinthian either slides by on the relative success of the "Pizza Pan" side business, or is merely extending its death throes with this diversity. I hope I'm wrong.

With great Greek restaurants like Mythos gone, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find authentic Greek food in a city whose distinctive chili owes its very existence to Greek and Macedonian immigrants. Most of the remaining "Greek" restaurants only serve Gyros and a few sides, but they lack many traditional dishes.

Corinthian is among a dying breed.

Corinthian Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon
Corinthian Restaurant

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 2.5 out of 42.5 stars

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