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Posted on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Parthenon Restaurant merges the best of old and new

By Jessica Levine


The Parthenon Restaurant, which opened on the corner of Main Street and East Liberty 35 years ago, is known for its gyros.

Jessica Levine I Contributor

In Peloponnese, Greece, blue—startling, Windex blue—crashes into white. Dry sky, kilned by a third-degree sun, combs ancient crags dusted with shale; offshore, Cathedral Agios’ gunmetal domes cap washed buttresses and walls. A Nafplio market awning—a tarp of blue and white stripes in tribute to the national flag—shades boxes of lemons, and splays of saints bracelets and knock-off Coach bags. Here, just as these color palette opposites collide, the old bleeds into new. The traditional, into freshly cut and constructed.

John and Steve Gavas get it. As owners of Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant, these Peloponnese natives pour blood and years into their food. They work hard to merge the filo-thin line between past and present.

“Most of our recipes are traditional, with many coming from my mother,” said Steve Gavas.

Since it first opened on the corner of Main Street and East Liberty 35 years ago, the Parthenon’s Greek- and Mediterranean-influenced cooking has earned generations of loyal customers, winning local competitions including this year’s “Best Place for Greek Food” Community Choice Award.

Why? Because we are looking for roots. We gravitate to the food and people that remind of us of who we are, where we come from and where we’re going. Greece is mythic that way—it churns up a wanderlust characteristic of Stephen Dedalus and even Odysseus himself.

Likewise, the food at the Parthenon comforts us. Chicken breast, marinated in olive oil and lemon; lamb shanks, tenderized until the meat slips off the bone; and wine, a decorative on every table, a drink to swill it all down.

Outside, plastered on white, its neon sign burns red in the dusk. Ceiling fans dissolve the brandy-made smoke from griddles of flaming cheese. Underneath the 10-plus AAA placards, baklava tempts in a plastic cake case. Line cooks, behind cafeteria glass, wield forearm-length knives and hack away at dangling, seasoning lamb torsos like sculptors on clay.

Meat, skewered on a vertical spit for gyros, fermenting grapes and feta, and good alcohol: this food is primal, tilled from the earth and made with the pride of the old world.

“Our food is homemade,” said Gavas. “We’re known, here, for our gyros.”

We can’t get enough of it. The Parthenon is a hybrid of the Cretan café—a six-tabled place whose floors are slicked with flakes of mica-like scales and oily water—and Americana pie diner, like our own Angelo’s. Moms with kids—kids who clap and squeal as brandy hits cheese grease—and Greek Orthodox priests alike come here. It’s more than the food.

It’s home, coupled with a need to hit the sea.

Jessica Levine profiles the culture and history of Washtenaw County restaurants for Contact her at


Tom Reed

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 6:46 a.m.

This restaurant is great. I've been eating there since September of 1977. I live in Chicago and am on the road all the time. I've never found any other Greek restaurant that compares to this place. The food is good, especially the gyros, a fare I'm afraid to order anywhere else. Salad dressing, ambiance, it's all in one neat and fantastic package at this location. I was just there last month and it was as good as ever. I thank the owners for being in business. AAAA++++++++++++


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 1:23 a.m.

1bigbud- I seem to remember there used to be a Cunningham's in that spot.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 4:52 p.m.

Fun foodie writing aside, I am not a huge fan of the Parthenon's food...I do, however, miss the old red-sparkly vinyl booths repaired umpteen times with duct tape in the days before the remodel.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 3:41 p.m.

Now i will date myself Who remembers what this place was Befor it was the Great Parthenon Restaurant,

Rex Roof

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 2:40 p.m.

I don't really get this place. It has been years since I last tried it, but the two times I went here I wasn't impressed. The food wasn't memorable and I don't remember getting very good service. I'll give it another try, I've been puzzled as to how it could occupy this spot on Main & Liberty for so many years when none of my foodie friends think it's very good.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 1:02 p.m.

deeeeeeelishiouss!! Its probably my favorite.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 6:21 a.m.

Love the description of the Greek landscape--"Windex blue"--and of the chefs cutting up the lamb. Thanks for another great piece!