Athens, Greece, that is. I’d be one of the last people to mouth the praises of fast food, but I did have a memorable lunch at the McDonald’s in downtown Athens on Syntagma (Constitution) Square. McDonald’s has made a lot of adaptations to accomodate its European customers, which is only logical because it’s not a cheap lunch. My meal cost over six euros (about $8.50 U.S.).
In Greece you can get your McChicken or Big Mac sandwiches in a Greek pita instead of a bun. I tried the chicken. It came in a zip-strip cardboard box and then inside a waxed paper envelope. Typically these things get soggy and leak, but this one had a thin plastic coating on the interior. Thick enough to prevent any seepage yet thin enough to be torn away easily, so I could continue to hold my sandwich without making a mess of things.
Greece, like much of Europe, is a cafe’ society. People often spend part of their day at a cafe’, socializing with friends and family, discussing the days events and news, people watching, drinking coffee, talking on their cell phones and smoking cigarettes. McDonald’s has many small tables with chairs on the sidewalk in front of their restaurant with big red umbrellas decorated with the golden arches. The umbrellas are multipurpose, protecting people from rain, sun and flying pigeons. Also, the sidewalk tables function as a smoking area with smoke free seating inside. Pretty unusual for Europe.
My Greek Chicken sandwich had ample pieces of oregano-seasoned grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato and a mild (but not bland) mustard sauce. Another adaptation McDonald’s has made in Europe is their potatoes. You can get the same old tired french fries just like in the states; but they also serve â€śfrites,â€? or what we would call small potato wedges. The wedges are a big step up. Plus they give you a little white plastic three-tined fork that looks like Neptune’s Trident to stab your spuds with.
The kicker to all this? You can get a Heineken draft to go with your Greek Mac and potato wedges–instead of some watery soda. It comes in a plastic kegger cup and it’s served cool but not cold. Perfect!
Ready to order? You better join the throng in front of the cash registers, because there are no lines. People crowd around and when the young Greek behind the counter looks at you, you better be ready to speak right up or they will look at someone else. He who hesitates waits.
I’ve got my tray of food and beer, now for the prime part. I choose a table with a clear view of the Square, with the Parliament Building on the opposite end and a busy intersection with lots of people crossing. I sit down, making sure that I’m fully underneath one of the big umbrellas. No flying pigeon presents, thank you! Athens is a big city. The entire country of Greece has a population of about eleven million people and over four million of them live in Athens. Syntagma Square is constantly busy with human and vehicle traffic. Beautiful women in the latest designer jeans and high heels, gypsies selling pens and flowers, street musicians, businessmen in suitsâ€”people from all over Europe as well as tourists from the U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan. Any vehicle you can imagine will pass you by if you sit there for awhile. Mercedes limousines from the 1930s, Vespa scooters, hand-pulled delivery carts, Czech-made Skoda sedans, a ’59 Chevy El Camino…
A bite of chicken, a sip of Heinie, a potato wedge and a feast for the eyes as well. All for less than nine bucks, plus the airline tickets.
GREEK CHICKEN WITH POTATOES
1 whole chicken(3-4 pounds), cut up, skin removed as desired
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
8 or more 5-inch stems of fresh oregano
1 lemon, cut into thin slices
4 medium red potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into wedges
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Â˝ cup chicken broth
fresh oregano leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place the pieces of chicken in the bottom of a high-sided roasting pan, after rubbing with oil (if desired). Generously salt and pepper each piece. Arrange the stems of oregano on top, then lay the slices of lemon over the fresh herbs. Scatter the potatoes and garlic evenly over the top, pour the broth over all and add more kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper as desired. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast for 3-4 hours. Remove from oven, remove foil and place potatoes in a serving bowl. Remove chicken to a serving tray and keep warm. If desired, remove lemon and herbs from top of chicken. Strain liquid from pan for a reduction sauce or gravy, or simply pour a little of the strained sauce over each serving of chicken.
Garnish each individual serving with a few fresh oregano leaves. Serve with a Greek salad.