Three Afternoons of Dining in Greece (Part 2)

Are you a foodie traveling to Greece? Author Christopher Bakken talks about the culinary hot-spots in Volos.

Boiled and Chared Octopus

This is the second of a three-part series on Greek cuisine by Christopher Bakken, author of Offer: 0520275098 Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table. View part 1 here.

Volos, Greece: Tsipouradiko Dionysis

Argonoton 3, Volos, Greece. Tel: (011 30) 24210 22205

The drive from Athens to Thessaloniki takes one through the heart of Thessaly—the bread-basket of Greece, with its wide and fertile plains. Thanks to the superhighway now connecting Greece’s two largest cities, you can complete the whole journey in around six hours, though I heartily recommend breaking the trip in half with a stop in Volos, a lovely port city with an underappreciated culinary reputation. Very appealing, busy restaurants line the harbor front.

My favorite of these is the always impeccable Tsipouradiko Dionysis, where you can dine just feet away from the water and watch the sailboats and fishing caiques bob up and down in their narrow slips. Poetically, the restaurant is located on “Argonoton,” or Argounat Street. Indeed, once upon a time, Jason and his men, the Argonauts, sailed from ancient Volos in search of the Golden Fleece.

Since 1956, Tsipouradiko Dionysis has specialized in the ritual of the “tsipouro meze” as it is practiced in Volos. Tsipouro is the home-made ouzo of Thessaly and northern Greece. It is somewhat higher in alcohol than Cretan raki and is usually made with anise and other botanicals. In Volos, your tsipouro arrives in tiny bottles (each holds a single shot) and your mesimeriano is not over until your table is littered with them. The tradition in Volos is to order nothing but tsipouro. A meze (singular) automatically arrives to accompany each miniature bottle you order and the mezedes (plural) become more complicated, satisfying and delicious the more bottles you order.

It was a pity that I arrived at Dionysis alone when I ate there in June, because I would have liked to try everything on their menu. I was fed beautifully nevertheless. Alongside my first tiny bottle of tsipouro came a plate of pickled vegetables (peppers, carrots, and cauliflower) and a smear of their patatasalata (potato salad): bright yellow potatoes mashed with carrot, lemon, and parsley. With the second bottle arrived a plate of lightly grilled pleurotus (oyster) mushrooms, drizzled with good oil. Then, a salad of boiled beets and their greens tossed with garlic and oil.

I should have stopped there, since it’s easy to make a completely satisfying vegetarian meal out of mezes. But when a plate of grilled octopus passed by en route to another table I decided to order a third little tsipouro. The octopus leg that came with it had been boiled until very, very tender and then kissed with some fire and sliced on the bias before it received a splash of simple red vinegar and parsley. Octopus and tsipouro are made for one another: the anise in the spirit is a perfect foil for the wisps of smoke and char and the rich marine flesh.

Offer: 0520275098 Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek TableBy that point, my culinary enthusiasm was obvious and I struck up a conversation with the waiter about the kinds of fish being pulled into the Volos harbor that week. When he mentioned that they’d just received a lovely bunch of koutsoumoura from off the Pelion Peninsula, I swooned. Koutsoumoura are the smaller cousins of barbounia, or red mullet, and I am obsessed with both fish in the summertime. Both fish turn bright red when they are fried and their flesh is as sweet as lobster.

By that point I had asked for the bill, expecting the restaurant would offer me a parting gift of fresh fruit or a little something sweet. Instead, the waiter returned with one more little bottle of tsipouro (“our gift,” he said with a wink) and a few perfectly crisp koutsoumoura on a plate. I doused them with lemon and ate every bite of that dessert, from head to tail.

This is part two of three. View part 1 here.

Published July 24th, 2014