Fine dining restaurants seem to fall into two categories today — industrial chic in black and chrome, or faux Tuscany in burgundy and gold. Weary of both, I was delighted when I entered Sparta Steakhouse to find an old-school nonconformist.
Everything about Sparta, from the unprepossessing exterior to its wood-paneled walls, catapults you back in time. And the steaks — oh, the steaks. There’s a reason this eatery has survived for 45 years.
After buying the restaurant at 1101 12th St. NW in Canton in 1983, Nick and Grace Margaritakis held true to its roots. Sure, they’ve added little updates such as drop lighting, but the ambience still says, “This is an old-fashioned, family-run steakhouse.”
Those with long memories may recall when this house with attached storefront was Ricker Hardware — and before that, Lemon’s grocery store. The storefront exterior seems small, so when I walked up the short flight of stairs, I was startled to find two nice-size dining rooms, one with a long bar.
The decor is kitschy, with Greek god statues looking down on a lighted Lite beer race car and a Parthenon-ish bar alcove that sports a Steeler-helmet lamp.
Customers are greeted, often by name, by the gentlemanly Margaritakis.
“We get lots of repeaters. And now we’re seeing their children as regulars,” Margaritakis said.
On my visit, we started with the Greek cauliflower appetizer and Sparta’s twist on bruschetta. The cauliflower was lightly breaded (not battered), fried to a golden brown, and served in a pool of tangy lemon sauce. I could have made a meal of it.
The bruschetta was a soft, thick pita round topped with chopped tomato, feta cheese and basil. The salad was iceberg lettuce, drenched in dressing, which is very typical of old-style steakhouses. They also offered us a dish of marinated beans and olives, a salad recipe Grace Margaritakis was trying out on customers.
We voted yes, add it to the menu.
I asked for the 8-ounce rib-eye steak to be cooked medium, and by golly, that’s what I got.
“Dennis Anderson has been with us from the get-go, and he knows what he’s doing,” Margaritakis said.
Anderson, Margaritakis and his son, Nick II, sit down once in a while to discuss menu additions. They recently added a Cajun platter, featuring a small filet, a chicken breast and a row of medium shrimp, all seasoned with a fiery Cajun rub, then drenched in a sweet sauce. A magical combination.
The filet was buttery, the chicken juicy. The shrimp were a teeny bit overcooked, but the sauce was so good you barely noticed.
Forget the rice or baked potato and go for the Sparta fries — crisp, brown potato rounds just a little thicker than potato chips. An indulgence.
If you’ve saved room, I recommend the baklava sundae or the dramatic pineapple flambé, which is half a pineapple soaked in brandy and brown sugar, lit, and served with ice cream.
OTHER GREAT PLACES FOR STEAK
Stark County steakhouses, like their steaks, are well aged. Here are a few local landmarks, still serving it up old-school:
Baker’s Cafe 33 1927 Stark Ave. SW, Canton. Everything about Baker’s — from the bare floors, vinyl booths, paper placemats and a focal point bar — shouts “man cave.” This is a place where men unapologetically order a 1-pound steak, which is served unadorned on a plate with home fries or a baked potato. (330) 454-0528.
Cornie’s Steak House 158 E. Main St., Alliance. Longtime customers recommend the rib-eye at this downtown Alliance eatery. (330) 821-7866.
Lucia’s Steak House 4769 Belpar St. NW, Jackson Township. Although it has moved from its longtime home next to Nimisilla Park into fancier digs in the Belden Village area, Lucia’s has held onto its roots.The menu features many familiar items, including the garlicky strip steak. And the salad still is the traditional iceberg lettuce drenched in house-made Italian dressing.