I was standing in the centre of bustling Syntagma Square in the heart of Athens and profoundly lost. It had been raining all morning and as I slipped across cobblestone streets I tried to suppress the pangs of hunger booming from my belly. I was only in Athens for three short days during the TBEX travel blogging conference and had to jam pack all of my tourist essentials into one day. Needless to say I found myself zig zagging across the city at breakneck speed without stopping to snack. I marched through the Archaeological Museum, skipped up the steps to the Acropolis Museum and marched around the ancient ruins of the Parthenon.
Damp hair stuck to my face as I kindly asked a few members of the market for directions to Tzitzikas Kai Mermigas. I felt as though I was on an episode of Candid Camera or Just for Laughs as I asked over ten Athenians how to get to the restaurant. One woman manning a banana and orange adorned stall pointed directly ahead. It’s not that I didn’t trust her but felt the need to ask a group of young gentleman the same question to confirm I was going in the right direction. Low and behold they shook their heads, swivelled 180 degrees and motioned me forward. This game went on for a considerable amount of time until I felt as though I should give up. My final prankster was a hip young woman who immediately recognized the restaurant and almost acted as if she ate their on the daily. I was hopeful. She mentioned it was a 1 km walk up the street and while I felt her ability to measure distance was questionable I smiled and waved goodbye. It was totally by chance that a short two blocks later I spotted the restaurant along the street.
While Athenians might not be the best at offering directions my experience in the end was a true testament to “it’s worth the wait.” I arrived around 3pm having only consumed a small cup of espresso and a petite croissant for breakfast. Over the course of the next two hours I inhaled a parade of plates which redefined the notion of what Greek cuisine can be.
I was seated at a table on the patio overlooking the street and while pursuing the menu noticed a steady stream of locals whisking their way through the entrance. I always look like an oddball, sitting alone with a note pad, pen and camera so was not surprised that my neighbours both left and right took the time to say hello. Two girlfriends from Salzburg had just finished their meal and chirped “this is the best meal we’ve had during our entire stay in Greece.” I was enthusiastic. A lone gentleman to my right mentioned, “I’m a businessman from Thessaloniki and travel to Athens often for work. I took a taxi here today just to ensure I had a chance to eat at my favourite restaurant in the capital.” I had yet to put one thing in my mouth and I’d already found two dedicated fans.
Tzitzikas Kai Mermigas is one of Athen’s hippest restaurants, offering guests a bright interior filled with campy nostalgic kitsch. White walls are outfitted with shelves adorned with vintage dry goods one would find in a Greek supermarket in the 1960s. The kitchen offers a menu which pays homage to indigenous recipes which hail from communities across the country while adding flare and whimsy which has one pausing to appreciate each plate.
A handsome server swung past by my table and plopped a large jug of water, tiny porcelain bowl filled with olives and pickled hot peppers and a shot glass filled with a cool transparent liquid. I first thought to myself, “I can’t imagine they expect me to drink water from this 2oz shot glass,” so raised the glass to my nose and took a whiff. Moments later my eyes had dilated, shoulder flopped backwards as raki shot through my veins.
When I saw the menu featured a selection of craft brews I was elated. I had become accustomed to being offered mass produced Greek beers such as Alfa and Mythos thus far and was impressed to see that the Greek craft beer movement was alive and well. I quenched my thirst on a cool pint of hoppy Septem Evoias before digging into a four course feast.
The Tzizikas salad is the restaurants signature and offers a fresh start featuring fresh cut vegetables, soft cheese duo from Amfilochia and Falani tossed in a nippy mustard vinaigrette. When the simply titled Vegetable Mille-Feuille arrived at the table I immediately thought two grilled pita’s stuffed with roast vegetables and drizzled with pesto had arrived under my nose. I was incorrect of course, yet delighted when my knife cut through two grilled slabs of masto cheese. If Greece has taught me anything it is that fried cheese makes ones current circumstances infinitesimally more delightful.
At this point my fellow diners were beginning to gawk as two more plates squeezed onto my table. The roumeliotiko proved that one doesn’t have to serve up fancy in order to impress ones palate. The dish featured a perfectly crisp pita topped with seasoned shredded pork and sweet grilled tomato. My mind was finally blown when a plate of mastihato. I had never seen anything like it and after scooping a heaving fork into my mouth I couldn’t help but blurt “oh my god.” The simple dish plays to all of my culinary carnal pleasures, when savoury is made sweet, the crunch and munch and tender meat doused in cream. A tender chicken breast is sautéed and sliced, perched on top of a kadafi nest (a Greek walnut and almond pastry) and swims in a bacon adorned cream. When I licked my plate clean I think an angel got her wings!
olives, pickled pepper, raki
fresh cut vegetables, anthotiro cheese from amfilochia, manouri cheese from falani, mustard vinaigrette
masto cheese, grilled vegetables, basil dressing
chicken fillet served on “kadafi” pastry nest, Chios mastic sauce, bacon
grilled shredded pork, grilled tomato, pita bread