Where were you in 1977? Mourning the death of Elvis Presley? Sitting through the New York blackout? Maybe you were just a twinkle in your daddy's eye. Myra Griffin, owner of Myra's Dionysus, was embarking on a new career as a restaurateur.
Myra's opened 30 years ago, and other than the few months Griffin closed her restaurant to do a little soul (and culinary) searching in 1985, Myra's has been a haven for University of Cincinnati college students, old hippies and anyone else with a craving for good, wholesome food ever since.
I probably hadn't been in for 20 years when my friends and I returned recently. It was comforting to see things hadn't really changed. I could almost swear they were using the same striped purple table cloths scattered through the tiny dining room. Along with their time-honored décor, Griffin says that some of the dishes on the menu, like the Gyro ($4), have been there since the beginning.
One of the things that makes Myra's special is the staff. The faces have changed over the years, but Griffin's influence has always been apparent. From the beginning, says Griffin, "I was always interested in the power of things when people work together on something. I'm always amazed at what people can rise to, given the opportunity and authority to make decisions." This lifetime of trust has been paid back well; former employees came from all over recently to help celebrate at the party Griffin threw for the restaurant's birthday.
Our server, a wisp of a girl who could have played a punkish Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, warned us that she had a feeling she was going to spill something that night, so we gave her a wide berth as she set down our cups of soup. (As far as I know, she made it through that evening without incident.)
We tried three of the eight soups ($1.75/cup and $3.50/bowl) offered that night -- the whole list of options tops 24. The Avgolemono (Greek soup made with chicken broth, rice, lemon and eggs) had more rice and less lemon than the quart I bought at Madison's Market in Northside (Myra's soups can be found at the downtown restaurant fresh and the Coffee Emporium as well). But the Clam Chowder was creamy and satisfying and the Thai Pumpkin was like nothing I could remember eating. Its spicy coconut milk goodness made it the easy favorite.
Myra's menu offers so many interesting things that it was hard for us to decide where to go next. It includes appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, rice combinations and entrées. There's a definite vegetarian slant with items such as the oat-based P.C. Burger ($5) and the FBLT ($4.50) made with faux bacon, but meat eaters will find a few options as well, including a Zorba sandwich ($4) with spiced meat and tzatziki sauce on pita bread and a chicken entrée served with brown rice and vegetables ($7.50). And everything is spiked with an international appeal -- from the Imam Bialdi ($6.75), a Turkish eggplant and tomato dish, to the Green Salsa Burrito ($5.50).
We finally picked the Jalapeno Jelly with Cream Cheese ($4), Tapenade ($4.50) and Pepperoncinis and Feta ($3.50) from the Savories category for our next course. We gobbled up the hot and sweet combination of the jelly and cream cheese on crackers and made short work of the tapenade, dipping warm pita bread into the salty, green mound.
Getting full, but undaunted, we moved to our main course. My friend chose the Gyro Salad ($6) and her husband the Pesto Ciabatta ($4). I went with a half order of the Red Bean Mole over brown rice ($5). My entrée was probably the best of the three, but they were all more problematic than our other courses. The gyro meat on my friend's salad, served in little rolls along the plate's edge, did not meet our expectations of sizzling slices of lamb fresh off a vertical spit, and the pesto on the ciabatta seemed old; it lacked the characteristic brightness of a fresh pesto. The red beans, topped with cheddar cheese and a yummy tzatziki sauce, were good, but it lacked the complexity I expected of a mole -- an Oaxacan sauce traditionally made with peppers, spices, tomato and chocolate.
We had better luck with the desserts. Our Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Cake ($3.50) and Raspberry Chocolate Almond Torte ($3.50) wrapped up the meal on a positive note. And as decadent as the torte tasted, the texture of the crust made you feel like you were really eating something that was good for you.
We seem to have a moth-like tendency for shiny new things, so the glitz of the new corporatized Calhoun Street is likely to be distracting. But make sure you don't miss that soulful little place named after Myra and tucked away in an unassuming Victorian house amidst all that bright light. ©
Go: 121 Calhoun St., Clifton
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 5-10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Very inexpensive
Payment: Visa and MasterCard
Red Meat Alternatives: The whole menu
Accessibility: Steps at entrance, on street parking