Restaurant's closure leaves small hole in my heart
© file photo
The Mouth That Roared
It was a small, anachronistic greasy-spoon pizza joint tucked into the back end of a strip mall tucked away on a side street in residential Pointe Claire. The leather banquettes and booths were peeling and splitting. The jukeboxes, once the best way for diners to entertain themselves while waiting for their meals, no longer worked, when my son and I visited last winter, but the food was every bit as delicious as I remember it being – and my son agreed, clearly, because after polishing off his grilled-cheese sandwich, he ate half of my pizza as well.
Even then, you could see that the end was in sight, but at the time, I didn't want to heed the alarm bells going off in my head that told me the place probably wouldn't be open much longer. Make no mistake, though -- for those of us who grew up in the Lakeside Heights section of Pointe Claire, Athens Pizzeria, on Walton Avenue between Hastings and Braebrook avenues, was much, much more than just a restaurant with dated décor, shabby seating and broken jukeboxes. It was, in fact, the taste of home.
It was a community centre of sorts; a place where kids and teens could generally go with or without their parents, and there was nothing to worry about. The menu didn't change much over the years – the staples of pizza, fries, onion rings, grilled-cheese and club sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs – remained the same, and so did the restaurant, which stubbornly remained set in its ways for the past four-plus decades. The place was owned and run by two family members -- George cooked the food and Peter delivered the food and waited tables inside the restaurant if need be.
Some of my most cherished memories come from my youth, when after a morning spent at the Pointe Claire Parks Program, my sisters and our friends would gather at Athens for pizza before the weekly flag challenges that pit park against park in friendly competition – and those lunches were often the highlight of our week, and the Athens 'experience,' as it were, was a huge part of that. Debating which song to play on the jukebox – The Scorpions' 1991 hit 'Wind of Change' was a popular choice – and the uncomfortable banquettes. But the pizza, to me, was delicious, and when I heard it was closing, it was like a death in the family. And I'm not alone.
When my wife and I moved back to the West Island in 2005 from downtown, the first purchase we made – other than the house, of course – was pizza from Athens to feed the people helping us move. Later, I would take my daughter and my son on separate occasions to get the feeling of what it was like.
Looking at the place through my children's eyes, of course, helped lend perspective. My son twirled on the stools lining the lunch counter (which I never saw anybody eat at, ever), while my daughter asked me about each of the songs on the jukebox, many of which were still around from when I was a kid.
Yep, 'Wind of Change' was still there.
There's a sign up on the now- closed restaurant door thanking customers for their patronage through the years and inviting interested entrepreneurs to have a look-see about re-opening the place.
I'm of two minds about this. Part of me wants to see the place open again, with updated décor, a renovated interior and some menu tweaks, but part of me wants it to be closed and stay closed, just so that period of time – that golden time in my life – lives forever in my mind, vividly.