Dining in The Acre: Olympia Restaurant

Since Chris and I are adding food blogging to our repertoire, I wanted to write up another place we’ve visited. A couple weeks ago we went out on a Saturday night to the Olympia, one of Lowell’s Greek restaurants. According to their website, they’re the oldest, founded by a Greek immigrant in the 1950’s.

Chris and I are vegetarian (I’m sure you’re all shocked) and I have to say this wasn’t the best place for that: everybody in the online reviews talks about lamb. But we found plenty to eat. We split tzatziki (tasty yogurt dip), spanakopita, saganaki (fried cheese), and Zorba fries. All were to our liking, and I especially recommend dipping the zingy Zorba fries in the yogurt dip.

Saturday night they seemed relatively busy but not jammed full. I was interested to notice, looking around, how many of the other diners seemed to be Greek, especially big family groups. It always seems like a good sign when an ethnic restaurant is popular within its own community. Lowell has a lot of strong ethnic neighborhoods and communities, and the Greek community is an especially active group.

The Olympia’s website says they’re in an “historic location”, and they’re right. Lowell’s Greek neighborhood had historically been in this area of town, known as the Acre. The Acre is west of downtown, and you can figure out a lot about its history in a stroll around the neighborhood. A couple things that should clue you in to it’s ethnic history: the stunningly beautiful St. Patrick’s, pointing to the Acre’s original population of Irish immigrants, and the gold topped Holy Trinity Orthodox church, with the distinctive domes that are often a clue to a Greek neighborhood.

Photo by Chris

St. Patrick’s Church

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Another thing you’ll probably notice are housing projects, which were very controversial when they were first built in 1939. Like a lot of Urban Development up through the 1970’s, the project didn’t see a problem with displacing vibrant ethnic neighborhoods in exchange for “modern” redevelopment. In the name of progress, many traditional neighborhoods and historic buildings were knocked down for housing projects and highways. Some cities accidentally dealt themselves mortal wounds in this process, and are still struggling to recover from the choices they’ve made.

North Common Village going up in 1940. Read more about the project and the Greek community’s history here.

Lowell has made mistakes, but it’s been really lucky in a lot of ways.  Lowell still has really strong ethnic communities and strong neighborhood pride, and lots of people working to keep both around. Despite being displaced by the Acre’s changes, the Greek Community is still a proud force in Lowell. Meanwhile, the Acre’s a much broader mix of people than it used to be, but it still has a sense of identity. The Coalition For a Better Acre and the Acre Coalition To Improve Our Neighborhood (ACTION) are actively working to make the neighborhood a better place.

Stick around as Chris and I continue to explore Lowell’s diversity in the tastiest ways possible. Let us know if you have any recommendations!  The blog’s a great excuse to eat out.

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