Socrates once said ‘ A good meal brings good people together’.
A sign with the quote hangs over the window leading into the kitchen at De Griekse Tavern, possibly the ultimate Greek experience in Amsterdam. Petros Ioannidis and Eleni Koutsou, a Greek couple from Athens opened De Griekse Tavern over twelve years ago and never looked back. Petros’ always wanted to open a restaurant and in a bid to fulfill a dream and combine this with nostalgia De Griekse Tavern was born.
The house specialty is unquestionably the Mezze.
Petros and Eleni were the first to introduce a rather ingenious mode of ordering, which apparently dates back to ancient Athens. On a super sized tray the waiter (most of the time a job taken on by Petros himself!) brings 18 small platters displaying the Mezze menu options. From infamous dips such as taramasalata to Greek style whitebait, the customers get to scan over the food prior to ordering, allowing a bit of mouth watering before making the difficult choice. The beauty of the Greek tapas is their social purpose, which unlike the usual 3 course meal, are really a complimentary side to a few beers or doses of Ouzo, the backdrop to a social gathering where laughter and conversation are an essential part of the experience. Where sharing is an obligation as well as a pleasure. Until the summer comes and we book our holidays to Greece’s warmer climate, De Griekse Tavern and its Mezze offer us an alternative way to suck in a bit of the Greek way of living. In addition, how Greek can you get when you are served directly by the attentive owner of the establishment? This is what Petros and Eleni are all about, presence and participation. It is always reassuring and certainly very Mediterranean to be welcomed and served by the owner.
Ouzo and Feta Cheese
Expect to find everyone’s all time favourites; stuffed vine leaves, a selection of dips accompanied by freshly baked bread and the classic Greek Salad, refreshing and adorned with the best feta cheese in Amsterdam. The key to quality throughout the menu is the fresh Greek flavours, a simple but effective mixture of lemon, oregano, garlic and of course quality olive oil. The latter being the pride and joy of any Greek restaurant of note; here they use extra virgin olive oil from the Kalamata region in southern Greece. Good enough to drink! If you are feeling meaty do not miss out on the Mixed Grill, appropriately accompanied by grease-free homemade chips. The organic lamb they import from New Zealand is so tender all you need is a butter knife to tuck into it, a sign of excellent quality. The couple’s own invention Prawns in Tomato Sauce, Ouzo and Feta Cheese is another strong choice, which according to Petros came about after a failed attempt to cook beef in the famous spirit. A successful trial and error story shows that tradition as well as experimentation are the signature of De Griekse Tavern kitchen. Their large selection of Greek wines is the stuff to put a smile on Bacchus’ face and a little dose of Metaxa or Ouzo could not be more appropriate for the deserved appreciation of their creamy Moussaka. In the dessert menu there is the Tavern Specialty, a proud invention of the couple that proved another experimentation success; Greek yoghurt, walnut cake and homemade compote.
All to the sound of Greek folk music -live Greek music
The decor in De Griekse Tavern could not be more adequate. No oversized marble or gold ornaments here, the ambience is pleasantly modest and unpretentious. It is like it has been transported by Zeus straight from Greece to the cold Dutch lands. The sort of understated and honest establishment you dine at day in and day out whilst on a summer holiday. Where the focus is on the food and comfort is found in the homeliness of the surroundings. All to the sound of Greek folk music. Live Greek music that is, if you are lucky and happen to book your table for one of their live music nights. ‘ We began the live music nights as an act of nostalgia, something for us to enjoy, but soon understood that our customers were equally enthusiastic about the multitude and energy of Greek sounds’ says Petros. During these ‘wild musical nights’ (in Petros’ own words) expect dancing on tables and clapping, transforming a delicious Meditteranean dinner into a night to be remembered. The couple is quick to tell anecdotes of broken lampshades and heel holes on the bar, but they are relieved to add no injuries have ever been recorded. Ray, an American customer turned close friend proudly shows a photo book he compiled over the years in appreciation of the Griekse Tavern, which he describes as ‘relaxing and easy going’. Previously a neighbour, Ray is a regular customer, who even after moving away from Amsterdam still stops by for a bite and a drink with the owners. He shows me photos of the yearly thanksgiving celebrations held by the couple in the restaurant and is not ashamed to say that Petros’ Thanksgiving dinner is better than anything that he could find back at home. The photos are a proof of it. Tables joined up, smiling customers posing as one big family. That is really the feel of the Griekse Tavern, besides the fresh, straight forward, quality food, the atmosphere is something not many restaurants can really cook up. It is the ‘Gezellig’ feeling the Dutch talk about, Greek style.