The “Neighborhood Restaurant” has always been a mainstay of American society. Even as the size and pace of our lives has grown and quickened, the restaurants that we frequent close to home offer a consistency and comfort that is actively sought out, as places where everyone knows you, your family, and the events that define us.
One of those establishments in the Washington, DC metro area that best defines the “neighborhood restaurant” descriptor best is Parthenon Restaurant–an authentic Greek restaurant in Chevy Chase. Established in 1989 by Pete Gouskos and Steve Tsiolis, The Parthenon replaced the Swiss Chalet. The challenge was to quickly renovate the dark interior to a bright, warm ambience; and to build a reputation for fresh, well-prepared meals.
Over time, Pete and Steve renovated their restaurant. Among their regular customers from the very beginning were Yankel and Pamela Ginzburg. Learning of Yankel’s reputation as a world-renowned artist, Pete asked Yankel if he would consider doing a painting for the restaurant. Yankel advised Pete to wait, given their budget focus. “You don’t need a painting from me!” After several years of cajoling, however, Yankel finally agreed. Pete handed him a 1948 black and white postcard of the Parthenon that his mother had sent to him. “It should look like this, but in color.” After months of effort, Yankel delivered the painting to the restaurant, where it remains prominently displayed in the main dining room.
With the goal of creating a neighborhood restaurant that would last, Pete and Steve immediately recognized the need to serve not only quality food and memorable cuisine. Doing so required a world-class chef. After an extensive nationwide search, they found their ideal candidate just across the Potomac in Alexandria: Juan Galeas. “Juan’s been with us 22 years, and remains our head chef,” Pete tells me. In addition, Parthenon has three assistant chefs, many of whom have been there 15+ years.
Parthenon’s crab cakes are reputed to be the best in Washington, D.C. Ben Olsen, manager of DC United frequents Parthenon, and always orders them, I’m told.
I ask Pete how he achieved such a reputation, he smiled and said simply, “To prepare the best food, you must have the best ingredients.”
Senator Jim Sasser and his wife, Mary, are long-time customers of Parthenon. “We stumbled upon it,” the Senator tells me. “And have been coming back for ten years!”
Another couple, Ken and Nancy Malm, rave about the menu. “It has 96 items. They’re always able to fill every item you order, and it’s always exceptional,” Nancy says.
“Who is your most loyal customer?” I ask Pete.
I’m told the restaurant has been frequented by many famous personalities, to include Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor and Souter, Senator Ted Kennedy and Chris Matthews.
“Patricia,” Pamela Ginzburg says, smiling.
“Patricia? I ask, now curious.
“Patricia Cook,” Pete answers. “She’s 99 years old and has been coming here every day for lunch. At the end of every meal, she orders a martini and smokes a cigarette. Every day.”
“That is why we are here,” Pete says. “The quality of our people. In a nice neighborhood. With loyal customers who keep coming back.”