By Joni Williams
Some people have a bucket list. Ours is a lottery list. In our fantasy of ways to spend our jackpot winnings, a trip to Santorini and surrounding areas is way up there. But seeing as how we almost never wait in those long Powerball lines at the Circle K, we feel pretty sure we’re not getting to Greece anytime soon. In the meantime, there’s the Aegean. And they serve beer. Opa!
But let’s be upfront about this. You don’t go to either the Shalimar or Miramar Beach location of the Aegean Restaurant for the beer, even though you can get it for cheap, especially if you hit up their daily Happy Hour. You go for the food. And like the brewskis, the big fat Greek fare they serve is outrageously affordable.
They offer three squares a day starting bright and early at 8 a.m. that, with the exception of the occasional rogue breakfast biscuit or afternoon burger, is authentic and made in-house. The menu overflows with tantalizing but frequently mispronounced (yes, we’re guilty) dishes like spanakopita, dolmathes, pastichio, gyros and tzatziki plus the Mediterranean staples you’d expect—feta, filo, lamb and yogurt. Pricing starts well under 10 bucks for sandwiches and lunch specials. And nearly all full-on dinner entrees are priced under 20 bucks, with a few exceptions.
That said, the Aegean puts on an almost unbelievable daily Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. where a tall, shivery-cold glass of draft brew goes for two measly dollars. And we’re not talking just your run-of-the-mill AB, Miller Lite or even PBR which, for two bucks, would be perfectly acceptable. No, their beer list includes Castaway, Grayton, Shock Top, Bud and Founder’s.
And there were at least two more, which we ordered. The first was a Goose Island IPA, because we knew it to be dependably good, a tasty yet unoffending gold beer that isn’t too spicy or bitter and is super easy to drink. Because our mission was to eat and eat a lot, this would make a good pairing for the spicy meats and creamy cucumber dip coming our way. We knew it would be good, and it didn’t disappoint.
We also ordered an Athena Lager. Why? Because it was Greek. And that’s all we knew. When in Greece, drink like the Greeks do. Only we’re not quite sure what kind of beer Greeks would drink. Based on a very fun and very good-looking former Greek beau, we always think of them as wine people who dance and shout Opa! a lot. So we expected a slightly sweet beer, heavy on the malt or maybe a spicy twist of cardamom or even Italian anise.
But to our surprise, the lovely, deep golden Athena proved to be hearty yet smooth, well-balanced and gloriously not overdone with hops, malt or bitter. It was tasty alone but also didn’t compete with the many flavors of our feast. We should have expected that. It was Greek legit, right?
Wrong. Turns out Athena Lager is actually a hometown craft by Pensacola Bay Brewery. We’re not sure if it’s made to simulate a fine Greek craft and quite frankly, we don’t really care. It’s delish and almost worth the trip to the Aegean in itself. Almost. As good as it was, it was the cherry on top of a very fine meal. After little debate, we opted for the Tour of Greece that included slivers of grilled, marinated lamb, chunks of feta, tzatzkiki, warmed pita quarters, salad, homemade moussaka and spanakopita. Not only was it tasty and well prepared, we’re pretty sure the ample portions could have fed a small village of marathon runners. The three of us barely made a dent in it, no joke.
Though at $24, our big fat Greek platter was one of the more pricier menu items, we could have gotten an amazing bargain by opting for one of the $7.50 Happy Hour gyro options or $6 spanakopita and been just as stuffed. Elios wine, by the way, is also discounted, fetching four bucks a glass, red or white.
And get this—well drinks are just $5 all day, everyday. At these prices, we might be able to put a couple greenbacks away for a Grecian vacay. Or at least the occasional lottery ticket.
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