Press 2008

Bob Cardone, Olympia Restaurant, Lowell

Baked Lamb

By Kathleen Pierce, kpierce@lowellsun.com

UPDATED:   03/20/2008 10:47:36 AM EDT

LOWELL — Why change a formula if it works?

For 55 years baked lamb has been the culinary star at the Olympia Restaurant. For the last 19, chef Bob Cardone has employed the same ingredients, precision and unyielding sense of history to make this dish his signature. For the remaining Greek immigrants who still live in the Acre, lamb is the taste of home.

“It’s exceptional,” said Vasilios Limberopoulos, sitting at a window table in the Market Street restaurant last week.

To achieve the hearty flavor of inland Greece, Cardone simmers lamb shanks in an earthy tomato broth spiked with garlic, clove and oregano. On any given week, the establishment will go through 2,000 pounds of lamb.

“It’s peasant food,” said Cardone, who knows how to make this Greek staple taste like a meal for nobility.

Simmering in the zesty stock for two hours in the oven, this lamb falls off the bone like a dream. Served with rice, seasoned with the tomato sauce, green beans, carrots and zucchini, this meal is a nice alternative to the comfort food we see everywhere.

They only trick Cardone imparts is to use liberal amounts of salt to mask the gaminess of the meat.

As we enter the season of Orthodox Easter and Greek Independence Day, lamb will be enjoyed in Greek homes from Centralville to Collinsville.

“It feels like you are eating roast beef,” said owner Stephen Tingas.

Awash in blue and yellow, the Olympia is immune to trends.

The menu still boasts the favorites that put the restaurant on the map when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. Although Cardone wouldn’t mind trying out a few new tricks, the theory is, “don’t rock the boat.”Step 1. Wash four lamb shanks in warm water and place in a covered roasting pan.

Step 2. Fill roasting pan 1/4 full with water and sprinkle in two medium chopped onions, four medium carrots and one cup chopped celery.

Step 3. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of oregano, three whole cloves, and one teaspoon black pepper.

Step 4. Add a decent amount of salt.

Step 5. Add three bay leaves, one tablespoon of minced garlic.

Step 6. Stir.

Step 7. Pour 1/2 cup of Greek white wine.

Step 8. Add three six ounce cans of tomato paste and cook until it comes to a boil.

Step 9. Boil down for 45 minutes.

Step 10. Cover the roasting pan and put in oven at 400 degrees and roast for 1 1/2 hours.

Olympia Restaurant, 453 Market St., Lowell (978) 452-8092, www.newolympia.com