The taste of Greece
Keeping Tarpon Springs’
Greek culture vibrant
…. one meal at a time
At Andreas Salivaras’ popular restaurant, the flavors
of family tradition are on the menu.
By Dalia Colón
iving along the Gulf Coast of Northern Pinellas County, you’ll come upon a Florida fishing village like no other: the vibrant Greek enclave of Tarpon Springs.
In the late 1800s, Greek immigrants helped establish the town’s sponge-diving industry, which still thrives along with Tarpon Springs’ Greek community.
According to the 2010 census, some 11.8 percent of the village population of 23,484 reported Greek ancestry – giving it the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S.
Today, visitors flock to Tarpon Springs not only to buy sponges but also to sample the authentic Greek food.
One of the area’s most popular eateries is Mykonos, a Tarpon Springs institution founded by Greek native Andreas Salivaras and his late wife, Renée Salivaras, in 1993. After operating several restaurants, including a pizza business, Andreas turned his attention to the flavors of his homeland. He chose the name Mykonos [pronounced MEE-cone-os] because he thought the Greek island, a popular tourism destination, would have better name recognition than the tiny island where he was born.
“We don’t want to lose the flavor of Greece,” says Andreas, 79, who grew up on the Greek island of Kimolos and attended high school in Athens before moving to the United States six decades ago.
Andreas and Rénee, a Chicagoan of Greek heritage, were married for 32 years. They ran Mykonos together until Renee died of breast cancer in 2010. The couple raised their three children, all now adults, in the restaurant business.
“My mom was a force of nature,” says Sofia Zaronias, 39, who grew up working at Mykonos alongside her siblings, Dimitri Salivaras and Koula Salivaras. “We still have customers 10 years later that come in and get teary-eyed not seeing her.” Renée was the calm to Andreas’s storm, Sofia says, and despite workplace disagreements, the couple learned to separate restaurant and home life.
“They would come home at night and share a bowl of cereal and watch the evening news,” Sofia recalls.
Such a simple nighttime snack for a couple that turned out such exquisite dishes by day: Menu items like the restaurant’s popular lamb fricassee and cucumber-tomato salad, both seasoned with green onions, parsley and of course olive oil, embody the flavors of Greece — a tradition Andreas aims to share with customers and pass on to his own children.
When patrons dine at Mykonos, Sofia says, “People truly feel like they’re coming to someone’s home.”
And home is more than just a catchphrase. Members of Andreas’s family work throughout the restaurant. Daughter Koula, 47, runs the back-of-the-house for Mykonos. Son Dimitri, 50, cooks modern Greek food at his own nearby eatery, Dimitri’s on the Water. As for Sofia, after years of doing marketing for Mykonos, she decided to “spread my wings,” she says. She now works in fundraising and development for USF Health.
“The restaurant business taught me so much, and they taught me so much about hard work and committing to something and not being afraid to have the glamorous part of it and then go clean the toilet,” Sofia says.
The glamorous part includes having Mykonos featured on the Travel Channel, Emeril’s Florida and earlier this year on the Tampa Bay Times’ list of the 25 most iconic local restaurants. It includes a bustling dining room year round, especially during winter — Florida’s tourist season.
“People come from all around the world just to try his food,” says Andreas’s 23-year-old granddaughter, Nichole Pastis, who’s been helping at Mykonos since she was in middle school.
Andreas continues making food that reminds him of his grandmother — dishes like the restaurant’s lamb fricassee, cucumber-tomato salad, spinach cheese pie and eggplant papoutsakia — as well as lathenia, an olive oil flatbread that’s baked with tomatoes. His goal? To make every customer feel like family.
“I don’t want to do Mykonos Modern. I want to keep it the same, because this type of food, this type of atmosphere, people… love it,” he says. “The hospitality and the food, they go together.”
That’s what keeps customers coming back to Mykonos and Andreas’s business around the corner, Fournos Bakery. And just like the baklava and spinach pies that fill the bakery case, the recipe for what makes Tarpon Springs thrive has stayed consistent — the Greek music pouring out of restaurants, the souvenir shops peddling olive oil soaps and freshly harvested sponges, the annual Epiphany celebration in which young men dive into the frigid waters of Spring Bayou in hopes of finding a cross that, the story goes, will make them blessed throughout the new year.
But Andreas doesn’t need a talisman. Nearly three decades ago, he dove into the depths of his heritage and surfaced with the idea for a restaurant that continues to see good fortune. Mykonos remains a mainstay on Tarpon Springs’ main drag, Dodecanese Boulevard, alongside Greek culinary deities like Hellas Bakery and Restaurant Mama’s Greek Cuisine and dozens more.
“Even in the United States now, everything changes,” Andreas says. “But not Tarpon Springs.”
Preparation time: 15 minutes
2 large tomatoes, washed and cut into eighths
1 cucumber, washed, peeled, and cut into pieces
2 to 3 medium slices of feta cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 small onion, sliced lengthwise
4 medium pepperoncini, chopped (optional)
1 small clove garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
Mix tomatoes, cucumbers, pepperoncini, onions, and green pepper in a bowl. Combine vinegar, oil, garlic, a little salt and pepper, and some oregano in a jar. Cover and shake. Place feta slices on top of salad. Pour dressing over the salad and sprinkle with oregano to taste.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1¼ cups milk
1/4 cup Romano cheese
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. During the last 2 minutes add grated Romano cheese. Remove from the heat.
Preparation time: 2 hours
Cooking time: 1 hour
4 or 5 medium eggplants (2.2 pounds)
1 pound ground beef
3 green onions, chopped
1 medium onion, grated
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup of oil
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1½ cup béchamel sauce and 2 yolks (see recipe page 43)
1 cup grated hard cheese (such as a Romano cheese mixture)
10 slices fresh tomato
Salt and pepper
Finely chopped pepper
Wash eggplants and cut in half. Scoop out a bit of the eggplant to make room for filling. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 1 to 2 hours. Rinse and leave to drain. Fry the eggplant in 1 cup of oil. Arrange the eggplant in the baking pan.
In the saucepan heat the oil and sauté the onions, add ground beef and continue to sauté. Add tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook until the meat sauce is ready, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and leave it to cool. Whisk the eggs with the cream. Add to the meat sauce. Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of meat sauce in each eggplant and cover with béchamel sauce. Put one piece of tomato on each eggplant and sprinkle with grated cheese and finely chopped pepper.
Baked in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve the Eggplant Papoutsaki hot.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
1 cup olive oil
4 pounds lamb (shank) or cut into 6 serving pieces
6 chopped bunches of green onions
1 pound romaine lettuce (2 romaine hearts)
½ cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup water
Heat oil. Saute lamb, then add pepper, salt and ½ cup of water. Cover and cook until the lamb is soft. Add onions, dill and parsley and let it cook. Do not overcook the lamb. When lamb is done, add some hot liquid from the pan to the beaten eggs, stirring, and then slowly add the lemon juice. Pour the egg-lemon mixture over the lamb. Gently shake the pan to evenly distribute the egg-lemon mixture over the lamb. Place lamb on a serving plate with romaine lettuce hearts around the edges.
Spinach Cheese Pie
Preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Servings: 20-30 pieces
2.2 pounds fresh spinach, washed and cut
8 green onions, finely chopped
½ cup dill, finely chopped
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
1 pound feta cheese, grated
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup butter, melted
Salt and pepper
1 16-ounce phyllo crust/pastry sheets
1 cup oil
Pour hot water over the spinach, squeeze, and strain immediately. In the large bowl, combine the spinach with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Coat a large baking pan (14 X 16) with oil; place half of the phyllo crust on the bottom of the pan. Coat each phyllo with oil. Place the spinach mixture on top and cover with the remaining phyllo crust, coating each sheet. Cut the spinach cheese pie in squares and coat the top well with oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Serve hot or cold.
Dalia Colón, an Emmy Award-winning multimedia journalist, is a producer and co-host of WEDU Arts Plus on Tampa Bay’s PBS station and produces WUSF Public Media’s food podcast, The Zest. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Colón was a staff reporter for Cleveland Magazine and The Tampa Bay Times. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, on NPR, and Visit Florida. She lives in Riverview with her husband, two young children and cocker spaniel, Max.
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