Mitropoleos 3, Syntagma Square
Locals in Athens know that late July to mid August can be a hit or miss time to head out to their favorite restaurants. Like everyone in Athens, restauranteurs outside the tourist zone take their holidays mid to late summer, and thus, many local favorites are closed anywhere from a week to the entire month of August. We found this to be the case the last week of July when we headed to one of our favorite Syntagma area tavernas, so we found ourselves wandering around the area late one evening – hungry and of course a bit disappointed. The prospects on the Square are dismal: McDonald’s, a couple of snack shops, a souvlaki stand … fine for lunch or a quick snack (well, not Micky D’s!) but hardly what we had in mind when we had first set out for dinner.
Wandering back down toward Syntagma Square on Mitropoleos Street, we remembered a newish addition to the square called “Politi.co”. The large signs out front, the open kitchen and the brightly colored tile like walls give one the sense that it’s simply a quick, cheap carry-out and fast food restaurant, but the waiters scurrying back and forth to the half dozen or so tables on the sidewalk, wrapped in Whirling Dervish like aprons, hint that it might be a good spot to try. We hurry back toward the restaurant and grab the second to last table. (We knew the empty tables would not last as we had noticed several other disappointed potential diners outside our original destination up the street, and we were correct, shortly after we were seated, one group took the last outside table, and the other headed inside to find a spot.
The name Politico references “politiki cuisine”, the food brought by the refugees from Asia Minor, who were blessed to live at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, at the end of the spice trail. It happens to be my favorite food, an almost original fusion of Greek and Middle Eastern flavors, long before the word “fusion” entered the gastronomic lexicon. While many of the ingredients overlap with traditional Greek dishes, the spicing tends to be more generous, the flavors richer, and simple foods like a Greek bifteki (minced or ground beef patties) are transformed into Adana Kabab, a delightful departure from the norm as the surprise herbs and spices fool the eyes but not the tongue.
So while one of my dining companions sulked, our third companion perused the menu along with me, helping me decide between the Tsigara Borek and the Kaisaria Borek, from a number of tempting spreads and dips and salads, and from the pages of grilled meat options.
We started out with an Usta Salad, a finely chopped mix of arugala (roquette), tomato, mint, parsly, sumac and an herb and spice olive oil and vinegarette mix. The menu did say if came with a “special sauce”, but our experience in Athens has always been that “special sauce” means Thousand Island dressing, and though it didn’t look that way in the photos, we took no chances and order our salad “horis sauce” (without dressing). The salad was crisp and fresh, each crunchy bite full of flavors, the bittery spice of the arugala the perfect accommpaniment to the mint, and the unique sumac flavor was an interesting surprise (one of those moments when you’re eating and a flavor hints to you, but you just can’t name it – – – that was the sumac.
Along with our salad we had Melinzanosalata, eggplant salad. The menu also listed Babaganoush, but since it contained mayonaise, we chose the Greek version, and we treated to our first white eggplant salad. It was smooth and full of the rich, smokey flavor of fire roasted eggplant. It was quite a surprise to taste actually, since the dish itself more closely resembled the Greek garlic dish, skordalia, our tongues did quickly adapt after the first few bites and we no longer expected the taste of garlic sauce. The only disappointment about this dish was the bread accompanying it. Though it looked beautiful, light puffs of thin pita like loaves, sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, we would have been happier had it been warmed (so if you go, ask your waiter to warm it for you).
We also had chosen Sigara Borek, and the 4 long, cigar-light pitas arrived hot, crispy and free of grease – the cheese and parsley mixture was wonderful, and the flaky yufka (turkish pastry like filo dough, but slightly denser) was the prefect wrapper. Serving fried items without a greasy residue is always a tough task for a quick service type restaurant, and here they have succeeded.
Our mixed grill for two arrived, a rectangular platter with two of eat of the grilled meats available: Adana kabob, a ground beef and lamb mixture with herbs, a hint of cumen and plenty of Aleppo pepper, succulent and tasty; Tavuk Sis, flavorfully marinated chicken kabob, tender and juicy, two “frenched” lamb chops, smaller than we are used to, but well prepared and tasty, and Doner Kabob, the Anatolian version of “gyros” (this last item was the only disappointment on the entire platter, it was dry and cold). For my tastes, I would gladly return and order a full order of the Adana kabob along with an order of the Tavuk Sis – both items were excellent.
The mixed grill platter was served with grilled peppers, (including a lovely spicy grilled hot pepper) and a side of pliyouri, an Anatolian grain.
Unlike most Greek tavernas, Politi.co has no “house wine”, but does have a nice selection of bottle red and white wines as well as raki and beer. It was a hot night and we’d been walking, and cold beer seemed like a good accompaniment to the meal, so we chose 3 Amstels.
Our bill came to 51 euro for the three of us. Like the three little bears, we’re still debating on whether this was enough food for the three of us: One member of our dinner party felt that the portions were small, the second member (21 years old) felt that the menu, portions and pricing might make the Glyfada location the perfect place to take a date, and I found the amount ordered and served for the three of us to be just right.
Politico is located at the south-west edge of Syntagma Square at Mitropoleos 3. Their phone number is 210/3232251 and they are open 7 days a week from noon until 1 AM. Delivery is available from 12:30 pm until 1: AM.
A second Politico is located in Glyfada at Zisimopoulou 7B, Glyfada, 210/8940598. Delivery is available and reservations are accepted for this location. Call 210/8940170.