Word has spread about the “good eats” at Hellas, a laid-back, unassuming restaurant off Interstate 97 that attracts mostly neighborhood clientele but also is luring Washington and Baltimore diners when they are in the area.
Hellas is in Millersville, Md., just south of Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, and has fans of regional cuisine traveling from the likes of Northern Virginia, the District and Annapolis — let’s not forget about nearby Baltimore — to satisfy their craving for a local staple — the almighty crab cake.
The Anne Arundel County restaurant is run by a Greek family — hence the name of the restaurant, the modern Greek word for Greece. The menu is best described as American with an influence of traditional Greek dishes.
Old No. 7 mussels ($7.95) was the appetizer special of the day. The words “Jack Daniels” and “barbecue” brought images of mussels covered in a thick sauce. In reality, the mussels were steamed in a broth with a barbecue base, which resulted in a rich, wonderful flavor that did not overwhelm the delicate taste of the perfectly cooked mussels. The broth was so good — as mussel broth must be — that the extra was sopped up with the bread that came early in the service.
A soup special of the day was shrimp gumbo ($4.95). I would have preferred the cup portion to have had a little more of a bayou bite, but with that said, the ingredients were on the mark, and there was an abundance of shrimp.
Two large crab cakes ($21.95) burst with jumbo lumps of Chesapeake Bay blue crab. The recipe produces a light and fluffy cake — it’s really a mound, and that’s a compliment, not a complaint — that can only be described as heavenly. Hellas obviously takes care in obtaining top-quality crabmeat and handles it with care during preparation. The sweet, succulent meat shines in this recipe.
The soft-shell crab plate ($18.95) is two pan-fried crabs dredged in “Chesapeake beer batter” (a house recipe blended with Old Bay seasoning) and served with onion rings and a Greek salad.
The two crabs were enormous and equally as meaty, fried to just the right crispness and served over toasted white bread. Onion rings also came at a hefty size and were lightly fried but crisp. The salad was a traditional Greek variety with fresh cuts of iceberg lettuce, onion, whole olives, chunks of feta cheese and tomato.
Stuffed rockfish ($25.95) was a filet smothered with jumbo lump crab imperial and served with fries and a salad.
As with most family-owned restaurants, portions were huge. Though “stuffed” at some establishments means a couple of spoonfuls, the quantity of crab imperial included with this dish at Hellas was more generous than the entree portion of imperial at other restaurants.
Though traditionally rich, the imperial sauce did not overpower the sweet jumbo lumps of crabmeat. The rockfish was expertly cooked, flaky and flavorful.
Veal Philadelphia ($24.95) was tender veal scaloppini, shrimp and scallops simmered in a light cream sauce and served over linguini.
The two large pieces of veal were mild and extremely tender. The scallops and shrimp were cooked perfectly, and their mild flavor complimented the veal nicely. The key to the dish was the cream sauce, which proves that “cream” doesn’t need to mean “rich,” and that “light” can, in fact, mean satisfying and full of flavor. Make no mistake, though: This is not light as in a diet dish.
Classic Greek dishes available are baked pastisto, consisting of long noodles layered with ground beef and topped with a bechamel custard; baked moussaka prepared with sliced eggplant, zucchini and potatoes and then layered with ground beef and topped with bechamel; or the baby lamb chops cooked with traditional Greek spices. All are served with two side dishes.
For meat lovers, the grill delivers a choice of New York strip, T-bone or porterhouse steaks; pork chops; and barbecued chicken-breast entrees.
Desserts are all homemade, and a tantalizing variety of cakes, pies and cheesecakes usually are available. Key lime ($2) won out over lemon meringue pie. This is the traditional cooked custard version, piled high with meringue. Though the green color was a little shocking, the flavor was tart and satisfying. The meringue was light and fluffy and just sweet enough.
Brownie cheesecake ($3.95) was a wonderfully rich traditional cheesecake, accented nicely with a rich chocolate crust.
RESTAURANT: Hellas, 8498 Veterans Highway, Millersville, Md.; 410/987-0948
HOURS: Open daily from 10:30 a.m. until midnight
PRICES: Soups and salads $3.95 to $8.95; appetizers $4.50 to $17.95; sandwiches $6.95 to $11.95; pasta $7.95 to $9.95; entrees $10.95 to $34.95
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
ACCESS: Wheelchair access