A Food-Lovers Guide to the Greek Cuisine of Tarpon Springs

By Janet Scherberger

In 1905, about 500 Greek immigrants arrived in Tarpon Springs, a small town about 20 miles north of Tampa and two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the newcomers were sponge divers, who had been driven from their home when their industry had been decimated by overfishing, disease and war. They were drawn to Florida when they got word that natural sponges had been discovered in the waters around Tarpon Springs.

In just a few years, the Greek population skyrocketed, as Greek immigrants sought their fortunes as sponge divers, sponge sellers and maritime workers. They brought with them their religion and traditions. And their cuisine.

Today visitors flock to this Pinellas County city to stroll down Dodecanese Boulevard along the Anclote River waterfront and sample fresh seafood and authentic Greek fare. More than a dozen Greek restaurants serve dishes like pastitsio (a noodle and meat casserole topped with white sauce); its cousin, moussaka (layered eggplant and ground beef or lamb simmered in tomato sauce and topped with white sauce); grilled octopus; chicken roasted with lemon and garlic; spanakopita (flaky sheets of phyllo dough layered with spinach and feta cheese); and the honey-drenched, phyllo-layered pastry known as baklava.

The proprietors of Costa’s restaurant trace their roots to the island of Crete, and their menu includes the regional specialty dakos—giant croutons served alongside salads for sopping up dressing or as the anchor of a dish topped with feta cheese, tomatoes, olive oil and abundant garlic. Mykonos restaurant names its Kalymnian salad after its owners’ Greek island homeland.

Next to Hellas Restaurant’s sprawling blue-and-white dining room, the display cases in the separate bakery seem to stretch for miles, showing off an infinity of cakes, cookies, breads and pastries—baklava, koulouri, tsoureki (a sweetened Greek Easter bread), melomakarona (honey cookies)—that they sell on the spot and distribute worldwide from a nearby warehouse.

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Janet Scherberger

A freelance writer and communications consultant for FORUM magazine, Janet Scherberger previously worked at the Tampa Bay Times, where she was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact team. She cohosts the weekly WaveMakers show on WMNF-FM.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 Issue of FORUM Magazine. Visit our collection at the USFSP Digital Archive by clicking here.