Greece will host the upcoming Summer Olympics this year and what better way to get into the spirit of the games than to taste authentic Greek food at Old Town's Taverna Cretekou.
The walls are decorated in the Minoan style, depicting a young fisherman with his catch. The colors are sun-bleached much as the murals in that ancient time would have been.
“I want the Taverna to look and feel like the tavernas in Greece,” said Adriana Manousakis, the restaurant’s owner. “The tavernas in Greece are places where families go for good food and good company and that is the goal here.”
Taverna Cretekou opened in 1974. “We were pioneers on King Street,” Manousakis said. “There weren’t that many restaurants here then but this has been a good location for us.”
Like King Street, Taverna Cretekou has changed over the past 30 years. “I like to keep things fresh,” Manousakis said. “For example, the menu. I change it every so often to make things just a little different.”
A little different these days means the food from ancient Greece. “I visit Greece regularly,” Manousakis said. “There are a few restaurants in Greece that have researched ancient Greek food in tribute to the Olympics. I thought we should do that here.”
She spent more than three months doing just that. “We looked at writings from the time of the first Olympics and used recipes from then,” Manousakis said. “That wasn’t always easy because many of the books are written in old Greek and we had to get them translated.”
Ancient Greek food was very different than modern Greek cuisine. For example, ancient Greeks used ginger, cardamon, coriander and saffron, not used today. The ancients believed in the therapeutic properties of many of these spices. Certain foods such as olive oil, vinegar, shell fish, squid, eggs and red mullet, were believed to be aphrodisiacs while marinated pear onions, leeks, lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, garlic and mint were considered erotic.
“It is clear from the use of many of these spices that the Greeks traveled extensively and shared their civilization with others,” Manousakis said.
WORKING WITH Taverna’s chef, George Maltabes, a native of Andros Island, Manousakis has created a menu that takes full advantage of the spices and other ingredients that were used in Greek cooking between 3000 and 500 B. C. “We have tried many different combinations and selected the dishes that we think are the best,” Maltabes said.
One of his favorites is Psari me anginares or fish with artichokes. The dish is served with bulgar wheat and is spiced with dill and fennel. The recipe comes from Feasting and Fasting in Crete.
“We used only recipes that we could find in more than one source,” Manousakis said. “After all, people can write anything and we wanted to be sure that our recipes were authentic.”
The Shrimp Ananius, for instance, was a favorite dish of a poet named Ananius who lived in 550 B.C., and who wrote about the recipe. It is prepared with white wine and spiced with marjoram. It is served as an appetizer.
Desserts in ancient times were made with cheese, yogurt and fruit. Aphrodite’s apricots is a dessert that is made with apricots, poached in white wine and orange zest sauce, served on creamy Greek yogurt.
THE SPECIAL MENU will be offered through the summer Olympics but there are other things happening at Taverna as well. Every Thursday night there is live music and dancing. The tradition of breaking plates is still observed, but is limited.
“The Greeks are very emotional people,” Manousakis said. “They used to take small hammers and break plates to show their emotion and their wealth. Governments change, though and the custom has been banned [in Greece].
“We let a few guests break plates but we show them how to do it so that no one gets hurt,” she said.
Easter is also a special time at Taverna. “We roast a baby lamb in the courtyard and serve Easter bread and paint eggs red,” Manousakis said. This year, Greek Easter is on April 11, and will be celebrated with a special Easter brunch.
Fish with Artichokes
Four to six slices of fish such as halibut
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Eight medium artichokes
One bunch of spring onions chopped
One-third cup of olive oil
One-fourth cup chopped parsley
One-fourth cup chopped dill or fennel leaves
For the sauce, juice of one to two lemons and one heaping tablespoon of flour.
Marinate the fish in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keep covered in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook. Clean the artichokes by removing the tough outer leaves and tips. Halve them, scrape out the chokes and cut them into slices about one half inch thick.
Drop them into a bowl of water with some lemon juice to prevent them from darkening. Wilt the onions in the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the artichokes. Sauté the vegetables gently for another five minutes, add one and one half cups of water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley and dill, and add a little water if necessary.
Place the fish slices on top of the vegetables, baste them with the juices in the pan, cover and boil for another ten minutes, or until the fish is white. Remove from heat.
Carefully lift the fish out and place the slices on a platter and keep them warm in a low oven.
For the sauce, whisk together the lemon juice with the flour in a small bowl until smooth. Slowly add four to five TBS of the saucepan liquid and return the mixture to the saucepan, shaking rather than stirring it into the contents.
Adjust seasonings, adding more lemon juice if desired. Simmer briefly until the sauce thickens. Place the vegetables on the platter around the fish.
Serves four to six.