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Greek Goodness

At Pegasus there's a reason for the crowds.

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Dining at Pegasus took me back to Greektown. But this isn't Chicago. Is there room in River City for a joint with red-leather booths, white linens and easy-listening '80s music — one that boasts Italian and Greek cuisine in the $15 to $25 entrée range? Show up any night of the week between 5 and 7, and the question will be: Is there room in the house for you?

On both my visits to Pegasus, the dining room was packed with smiling folks who could tell you a tale or two about the Old Country (preferably over a bottle of Chianti or ouzo). The maturity of the patrons not only indicates that the food is authentic and tasty, but also means you may have an easier time getting a table at a fashionable, later hour. Try to slip in for a meal before heading to a show at the Westhampton or the Modlin Center, however, and you might find yourself in the regulars' rush.

So what's bringing 'em in? Plain and simple, it's the food, which is plain and simple. This means clean, fresh flavors and time-honored preparations. In the case of owner Mike Hatzimanolis, the recipes are family-honored too. Hatzimanolis was born into the restaurant business. His earliest childhood memories center on the restaurant his parents operated on the Greek isle of Karpathos, where he learned the craft he's been sharing with Richmond for the past nine years.

At first glance the menu might make you think you're at Joe's Inn or any number of Italian/Greek joints around town. But when the food arrives, the differences are obvious.

A sampler platter features the usual feta, pita, kalamata olives and pepperoncini (like a deconstructed Greek salad), but also tzatziki with shreds of fresh cucumber to make it more than a condiment, light and flaky spanikopita, and a wonderful taramasalata (red caviar spread), the aroma and flavor of which are transcendent.

The avgolemono, a traditional lemon chicken soup that's as light and refreshing as soup can be on a hot summer day, is as good as I've had anywhere else. A Caesar salad with real anchovies and a shrimp cocktail with prawns nearly as big as lobster tails demonstrate the simplicity principle: Make it right, make it good.

The entrees are equally well-executed. A special of sautéed shrimp and linguine with tomatoes, basil and garlic in olive oil was fresh and light; the bounty of fresh summer produce carried the flavor to another level. A pork tenderloin with spring onions and red-wine sauce — pounded flat, lightly dusted with flour and sautéed with garlic — was tender and delicious, and dressed with a sauce you'll want to slurp from a spoon.

The moussaka (Greek shepherd's pie) was savory and filling, with the authentic sharpness of lamb mitigated by a light tomato sauce and broiled cheese topping. But I gotta confess. My favorite dish of all was the deep-fried jumbo shrimp — the biggest I've seen anywhere, hand-breaded and golden crisp, served with — what else? — cocktail sauce.

I know. Serious foodies are thinking, "Deep-fried shrimp?!" It's true. But you know what? That may have been the best meal I've had in a while. Before I knew what crème brûlée and tiramisu were (both are delicious here), I was just a kid who loved to eat "shrink."

During after-dinner coffee, my wife and I laughed at the expressions of our 1-year-old daughter. During the course of a one-hour meal she'd tried and liked feta, lemons and spanikopita, all to the delight of the wait staff and regulars. Watching her drum a spoon on the red-leather booth, I thought about the meals of my childhood. I thought about all the meals she has yet to eat, and I thought, Richmond is lucky for places like Pegasus, which feed the kid in us all. S



Pegasus ($$)
5604 Patterson Ave.
282-3719
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.;
Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.



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