In a narrow street directly behind the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum, Leonidas and Ioanna have been serving traditional food to Athenians and visitors at To Kati Allo restaurant for over 30 years.
Oven-baked peppers stuffed with rice, spit-roasted lamb, robust fish soups, hearty moussaka, salads, baked chicken with lemony potatoes. Comfort food that Greeks love and never get tired of. Home food away from home.
I find To Kati Allo courtesy of my friend Sandra, who I run into at a train station. I’m coming into the centre of Athens to revisit the Acropolis Museum with fellow travel blogger/historian David Simpson from San Francisco. It’s supposed to be autumn, but today’s bone-chilling temps and biting wind say WINTER.
Warm food is on the agenda after the museum.
“Go and see Ana. I’ve known her for years,” Sandra suggests. “You’ll like her place.”
She’s right. If you’re looking for old-fashioned neighbourhood food, this really is about as traditional as it gets. It’s called a ΨΗΣΤΑΡÍΑ or (feastaría), although it’s also known as a taverna. This type of Greek eatery has no formal printed menu. What’s been cooked that day is written on the chalkboard outside. Everything is super fresh.
Prices are well below touristy tavernas nearby.
The Koukaki/Makrigianni neighbourhood used to be a working class mix of neoclassical villas and minimalist apartment buildings until the museum was built. Buildings for a block were razed for the gleaming glass, marble and concrete structure which opened in 2009 and houses most of the treasures from the Parthenon. The rest, unfairly, remain in the British Museum. With the up scale, the neighbourhood went up a few notches too. There’s more green spaces and better infrastructure. The Dora Stratou Theatre and the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum are only a few minutes away.
To Kati Allo means
The Something More
or something exceptional
To Kati Allo restaurant has several tables on the street front, with simple checked cloths overlaid with plastic covers. In summer it’s a pleasant place to sit, while in winter it’s cozy indoors, which is where we are today. We arrive to eat at mid afternoon, a usual Athenian time to dine.
Leonidas Bakatselos is here from 7am daily, seven days a week, to start grilling the meat over hardwood charcoal, and then make simple breakfasts. No cappuccinos here. Greek coffee in small, plain white cups, the way it’s been served in Greece for hundreds of years. Plain (sketo), medium sweet (metrio) or rather sweet (glyko), with the distinctive foam on top.
The fat slab of feta topping the horiatiki salata (Greek village salad) isn’t too salty and it’s beautifully creamy, the hallmark of quality feta cheese. Salad is served with a sprinkling of dried oregano, a generous drizzle of olive oil and no vinegar, which is the time-honoured way. Vinegar is available if you want it. Oil, vinegar and vegetable juices form a delectable mix at the bottom of the bowl which is best dealt with by using crusts of bread to dip, dab, scoop then devour.
David is very enthusiastic about his baked chicken and potatoes. I also recommend the zucchini stuffed with minced beef and rice, framed by a delicate egg and lemon sauce. Mop this sauce up with bread too. It would be silly not to.
Ioanna and Leonidas are helped in To Kati Allo by son Konstantinos (Dino) and American daughter-in-law Jennifer, who live nearby and have two children. Iowa-born Jennifer has been in Greece for nine years. She says To Kati Allo, like many family-run businesses in Greece, did it tough when the recession crippled the Greek economy from 2008. Violent demonstrations in the Athens city centre put tourists off coming to Greece.
“This whole area was so depressed. They’re (the tourists) back now, and this year has been good,” she says.
David is off to see the Parthenon in fast fading light, so he makes a dash for the door, but I linger over coffee. This is a nice spot on a wintry day. There’s no pressure to leave. Jennifer’s in-laws sit down to have some fish soup while it’s quiet between service. Jennifer, who’s been outside giving me momentary star billing on the chalkboard, comes back inside to join them.
CHECK LIST FOR TO KATI ALLO RESTAURANT ATHENS
- Hatzichristou 12, Koukaki/Makrigianni
- Open 7 days from 7.30am
- Greek homestyle cooking
- No set menu
- A simple meal is just over 25 euros for two (2014 prices), including a half kilo jug of wine.