SPARTA STEAK HOUSE & LOUNGE: 3.7/5 stars
Taste: 3.5/5 Largely delicious but with a few big misses.
Service: 4/5 Friendly and talkative.
Ambiance: 4/5 Iconic and old school.
Concept: 4/5 Straightforward classic steakhouse fare.
Pricing: 3/5 Not a cheap date. Especially when drinks are involved.
I assume that Sparta Steak House & Lounge has—with the exception of new televisions—looked exactly the same since about 1975.
It’s the definition of old school with well-worn vinyl booths, carved wood fixtures and hanging greenery. The restaurant and lounge is tucked into what looks like a house on 12th Street NW next to a narrow pockmarked parking lot. On our Monday night visit, the space was filled with lively conversation against a soundtrack of ’80s hits.
Though this was my first visit to the restaurant, there was something comfortably nostalgic about the experience. It feels like the kind of place you’ve been going to for years. Maybe it’s because many of the nearby diners were obviously regulars—the table of women next to us even shared a bite of birthday cake with their waitress.
Sparta is known for their cocktails, so my husband, Dave, and I started this review with a few drinks. I opted for the famous blueberry martini. The drink, made with homemade blueberry vodka, reminded me of a melted Popsicle. Thankfully, the vodka-soaked blueberry garnish packed enough alcoholic sting to remind me I wasn’t drinking juice. It’s delicious enough to be dangerous. Dave’s old fashioned was on the weak side but perfectly acceptable.
Sparta’s menu is fairly straightforward with a good mixture of steak, seafood and Greek appetizers.
We opted for the sausage-stuffed hot peppers ($6.95), which were flavorful and carried the perfect amount of heat. We happily sopped up the extra marinara sauce with pieces of beautifully grilled garlic bread ($2.95) that was tasty enough to eat alone.
The saganaki ($7.95) was far less successful. The flaming cheese has an obviously cool presentation, but our waitress seemed nervous about lighting the dish on fire and extinguished it far too early. The cheese was still soaked in Bacardi 151 Rum, which made for an odd flavor combination and a rubbery, off-putting texture.
I knew I had to try Sparta’s steak—it is a steakhouse, after all—and opted for the petite filet ($24.95). They aren’t kidding about petite—it’s a diminutive piece of meat, especially for the price—but it’s also delicious. My filet was unevenly cooked, ranging from a medium-rare to nearly well-done in spots, but it was nicely seasoned and perfectly juicy.
At the advice of a few coworkers, I upgraded my side salad to a Greek salad ($5.75/$8.95 or $2.65/4.75 as an up-charge). It was worth the extra price. The lettuce and veggies were crisp and fresh, and I loved the addition of salty, soft feta.
I also upgraded my side to a cheesy double baked potato ($4.20 or $1.85 up-charge), which was rich and creamy and a good accompaniment to the steak and salad.
Dave ordered the blackened Cajun platter ($23.95), which featured shrimp, chicken and steak. The shrimp and steak were both perfectly cooked and juicy, and though the chicken was on the dry side, it paired nicely with the other proteins. The Cajun sauce is the real star of this dish. I loved the combination of sweet and spice and more than once dipped a piece of my own steak in some of the residual sauce. The rice pilaf side was deliciously buttery.
Those same coworkers had high praise for Sparta’s dessert, and I started this review fully intending to order a baklava sundae ($7.75) or the famous brandy-and-ice-cream pineapple delight ($8.60), but was too stuffed to continue eating.
Instead, we took home a slice of baklava cheesecake ($5.50) to share. The creamy cheesecake, topped with bits of crispy, sweet baklava and drizzled with chocolate and caramel was near-perfect and absolutely decadent. I’m already craving a second piece.