Athens—the food

It’s a funny thing Greek food. I feel like in the US it generally it gets a kind of second class citizenship but in most of Europe Greek Cuisine is treated with the same respect all the other the national cuisines are except maybe French—but well, the French. But in France there are Greek restaurants, and Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican (you can reliably skip Mexican in Paris, is my experience), Vietnamese and any number of North African and Mediterranean food offerings. In Italy there are mostly Italian restaurants but Italian food has more variety. In Germany you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of German restaurants but there are Greek, Turkish, Italian, French, Chinese, Vietnamese etc. In Greece, there are only Greek restaurants. (Yes, I know, a few other kinds dot the landscape but the vast majority of restaurants are Greek).

We started our four-day food tour at Karamanlidika (see website here). I found it online. And we just took a chance and just went there. It’s in a crappy neighborhood but it was an easy walk and looked just about perfect. And packed with people—you know how when you get to an empty restaurant and the waiters are standing forlornly, looking beseechingly at you and really you just want to turn around and run? (and I have been on the other side of that coin). This was not that. We cautiously entered and Maria, the manager who is now my best friend, said, “Reservation?!?” in what I thought was an aggressively unfriendly way. I timidly responded in the negative and she looked around the room as if to say Can’t you see the place is freaking packed you doofus??!! and then said, “sit here!” in a little corner next to the door on two tiny Greek thatched-seat, charmingly rustic wooden chairs. She came back a second later and escorted us to a table in a sort of hallway/alley filled with people. It was soooooo perfect. She asked where we were from when I told her Milwaukee she was like “Huh?” which is strange because Athens is all over the Milwaukee Bucks thing. (Our taxi driver on the way out told us his brother-in-law went to high school with Giannis and that Giannis is opening a Greek restaurant in Milwaukee and asked his brother-in-law to come work there—I am sure every taxi driver has some version of this). Anyway she didn’t know Milwaukee, I said Chicago and she said GUNS!!! So there’s that.

The food was great. But as we came to understand, all the Greek food is more or less the same unless you’re going upscale. I’ll get to that. What stands out here is Maria who just made the experience an absolute joy. When we left the first time I hugged her.

When we came back the second time she was on the other side of the room and saw us, stopped what she was doing and ran over and hugged us. I’ve said it before the place and people can make or break the whole deal. She more than made it.

Maria. (Not my photograph—she’s all over the internet so it turns out I’m not her only best friend).

The next night (I think) we went to some upscale place that seemed to be offering “a gourmet take on Greek food.” Yeah, no. My salad with the one layer of fried phyllo, and cheese foam boobs that were silly. Cheese foam is actually sorta frightening. Foam with a vague cheesy smell is really like something you’d find in your shoes after a long run. The “green pie,” (the menu description) was a pile of wilted greens with a more substantial phyllo crust on top of it and then decorated with a thicker version of the cheese foam, more like cheese whiz.

My entrée was called Crispy Pork and was essentially pulled pork that had been pressed into a rectangle and then fried it was not bad but not all that good. Not for “gourmet” anyway. It needed Judy’s BBQ sauce.

Greek salads. Loved them but personally I’d have preferred a little vinegar, they only use oil which is fine but, like I said, I like vinegar. I drink vinegar. Oddly we encountered very few olives. The trees were full of them, there were people collecting huge bags of them but they never found their way onto our plates. I don’t think there were more than 2 or 3 in my salads.

Luncheon beers of the third kind.

Lunches. Some souvlaki or gyros or something, our first meal after our arrival. It was fabulous. Dolmades and plakis giants, the greek beans that I love. Stuffed zucchini, I don’t know what the sauce was but I’d have a big bowl of it.

And that’s the long and short of it. Greek food from Alpha to Omega.

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