Having been to Athens a few times in the last decade, we always ate well but never felt like we'd busted into the "real" local scene. The food and ambiance in Plaka is surprisingly good, particularly for a tourist zone, but we knew there was much beyond that area. On our last trip, we finally saw another side of the city which left us hungry for the next trip. This time, we were with a local Athenian friend who swept us around the city so we did not always catch the addresses. I will try to track down those details and update this post but I wanted to get this up while it's still fresh. If anyone can help fill in the blanks, it's much appreciated.
Stani- yogurt and rice pudding
Among dingy-looking bars and a couple of vacant buildings, we found a neighborhood holdout called Stani. This is a dairy bar, essentially, specializing in yogurt with honey and crushed walnuts and other milk-based specialties. We had a very nice earthy fruit paste that reminded us of pekmez. And of course, the house special, rice pudding. We regret that we didn't come back for the Stani "eye-opener"- warm milk with lokumas for breakfast. Here's a link to their website:
Kriti - outstanding Cretan food
The best meal of the trip was also the hardest to find. Kriti is a collection of rooms scattered around the first floor of a shopping arcade. We sat in the main room and got very good treatment by the owner and his daughter, who was waiting tables (and speaking English, by the way).
The Cretan salad of fresh greens and shredded tomatoes over crunchy "rusk" (think giant crouton) was the perfect vessel for the extremely good olive oil of Crete that this restaurant serves. The spirit Tsipouri, we had the one not flavored by anise, was served in small bottles that were refilled liberally throughout the meal. Cretan "sausage" was a deliciously smokey cut of pork back. Wild greens were sautéed and chilled as a meze. The sardines were fresh and fried cleanly. Everything coming out of the kitchen looked great. We really wish we could've had another meal here. I'm trying to track down the address and would love to find out more about this place and others like it.
Walking around the downtown area, we peeked into many of these little shopping arcades and spotted great looking bars and simple restaurants. Unfortunately, time didn't permit a closer look.
This is a charcuterie shop across from the Municipal meat market where you can try their pastirma and sucuk. We didn't get the full story on this Ottoman Armenian family or its roots in Athens but the pastirma is certainly on par with what is found throughout Turkey. The pastirma made from camel meat was a first for us and, qhite honestly, not that interesting. The beef, however, was very good. They'd do very well with a shop in Istanbul!
The Crab- late might souvlaki
One of Exarchia's bustling fast-food souvlaki spots is a place the known as the crab. Expect "crabby" service and a very good pork souvlaki with everything on it. They also serve a delicious-looking gyros which we did not try. People watching here in the funky Exarchia district is top notch.
The crab was the first stop on a sort of souvlaki tasting, and truth be told, apart from the Exarchia ambiance, the crab's souvlaki was fairly average. We headed to Derlicious in Kolonaki for an upmarket souvlaki which was really special. All of the ingredients here tasted a little bit fresher, but it was a the corn pita (in place of the usual flour pita "sponge") which made the difference. There was even a grilled helumi in pita for the non meat eaters at the table.
Tsakalof 14, Kolonaki
Oinoscent Wine Bar
This slick and casual wine bar was wearing many hats when we visited. It was a local hangout for a coffee and a chat for some, a pre-dinner drink for some couples and for us a crash course on Greek wine. One of the owners quickly pulled together a diverse flight of whites followed by reds. All Greek and all distinct. Very friendly and English-speaking we found this an excellent place to taste a wide range of local wines and walk away with some information. I will be updating this post with the names of the wines we liked most.
Peinirli- Black Sea Pide, basically.
As residents of Istanbul, the sight of a canoe-shaped "pide" is not so unusual to us. But in Athens at Peynirli we stopped to consider its journey from the Pontus in the Eastern Black Sea to Athens, presumably brought by Pontic Greek families in the population exchange with Turkey in the 1920's. Anyone familiar with this painful moment in history will marvel at how intact the pide arrived in Athens as I had it at Peinirli. Fired in a brick oven and topped with a mild cheese which reminded us of the Trabzon kasar, we felt as if we were in some of my favorite pide haunts back in Istanbul. Even the name, Peinirli is Turkish for "with cheese". The option of ham as a topping, is, of course, Greek, and we strongly recommend it!