EAT & DRINK
This updated report on the TAVERNAS in Vatera (3rd edition) is going to be different from the previous two, in as much as it does not entirely rely on my personal opinion but also on the factual feedback of our esteemed clients and business associates, who never fail to appraise me of their gastronomic experiences.
Therefore for their unstinting dedication special thanks go to:
Mark & Katie from Nottingham, Tricia & Bob from Basildon, Chris, Clare, Rose & mums from Crawley,
John & Mary, Jane & Bob from Devon, the Samaras family & their friends from all over USA, Pauline and her friends from Australia & UK, Frantz & Manuela from Germany, to mention but a few and of course the leaders of the Bird watching and Walking Holidays in Vatera: Brian & Eileen Anderson, Dirk Raes and Angela & Steven Henson.
VATERA continues to be the No 1 choice at Lesvos for the Greek families taking their holidays in July and August. Thus the tavernas in Vatera continue to cater for the Greek palate and budget, using traditional, local, flavoursome products and long may this continue. Of course most holidaymakers are mobile these days and like to ring the changes so we will also refer to the preferred tavernas, bars etc in the immediate locality: Vrisa, Polichnitos, Nyfida, Skala Polichnitou, Lisvori, Skamnioudi, Skala Vassilikon and Achladeri.
Our starting point for the gastronomic trail in Vatera is the MADONNA site, which since January 2002 has been undergoing extensive changes and improvements, all the time responding to client requirements. Although it remains a primarily self-catering apartments complex, in 2004 it will be fully licensed to serve breakfasts, snacks, beverages, soft and alcoholic drinks in its indoor and outdoors bars. The outdoor bar area with its panoramic view has always been popular and its becoming more so, as the improvements to the facilities and the surrounding area continue.
Leaving the MADONNA site and heading for the beach, most people turn to the left as soon as they arrive at the famous (or infamous) signs. Itís quite possible that these signs (kitsch, ugly, amusing, call them what you will) will be replaced some time soon with new, uniform looking, better arranged signs. The matter has been discussed long enough at the Town Hall. So just in case it happens sooner rather than later, I am giving you advanced notice.
The very first bar to the left (app. 300 m from the junction) is PUB MYLOS. Over the years it has gone many transformations as management changed. The 2003 version operated on three different areas. To the left of the road, the first floor of the actual two-storey building is an entertainment bar with music for mainly nighttime custom for a young clientele. The ground floor area serves hot & cold drinks, ice creams, sandwiches and hot dogs to take away or table service. It also services the wooden beach terrace on the opposite side of the road and the beach area below with its many umbrellas and sun loungers for the sun worshippers. It is the meeting place for all local youngsters and their visiting friends from the mainland every summer. It was open for business from June to early September in the summer of 2003, but this might change for 2004. Generally speaking it is a good hang out place in the summer, with beach volley facilities for the sporty ones.
The first taverna at app. 300 m from Bar Tequila is TAVERNA ZOUROS. This is a long established taverna, which has just been renovated aesthetically. It is a firm favourite with locals and visitors. Its open from May to September every year. It cooks an extensive range of traditional dishes (meat, fish, shellfish, vegetarian) every day, it serves freshly grilled meats (souvlaki, chops etc) and fish but if you fancy lobster you have to order it the day before. Over the years we had some wonderful lobsters here. They are surely a special treat for a special occasion, but certainly not as expensive as in European restaurants.
The Zouros Taverna is still the place to meet with friends for an ouzo lunch. A small bottle of ouzo (penindaraki) will be served with a selection of meze, small dishes of a Greek salad, legumes (haricot beans or chick peas or broad beans) or other vegetarian dish and a small portion of fish and bread. Its pot luck with the selection of dishes but its yummy anyway. You can always order something extra from the menu if you wish but if you do like ouzo you may end up ordering a second penindaraki, which will be served with more food. I always order sardelles pastes (salted sardines) as I can never resist them. They are the Greek version of sushi and the ideal meze for ouzo, but nevertheless an acquired taste.
Exactly next door to the Zouros Taverna is located what I now call the KARAISKOS GRILL HOUSE. In previous years it used to serve souvlaki, rolled in pita bread, bougatsa (sweet semolina pie) and loukoumades (small round sweet dumplings, dipped in syrup or honey). This summer it blossomed into an eatery with status and has been voted by many a firm favourite. It opens at 7 p.m. and closes in the early hours of the morning, catching the late night clubbers looking for food. Its menu includes traditional favourites like meatballs in tomato sauce, octopus in vinegar, fried courgettes & aubergines etc but mainly it is a very good grill house. We had the most succulent grilled pork chops and large size souvlaki there. It is the only place in Vatera where you can get boiled goat soup (gida vrasti). This may not sound very elegant but I can assure you its absolutely delicious. It also serves pizza with very generous toppings. Of course it continues serving the old favourites of souvlaki, rolled in pita bread, bougatsa and loukoumades. Generally speaking itís a good value, good service place you must not miss. Good customers are often rewarded with free treats at the end of their meal, a little bougatsa, some fresh fruit etc. It also operates a take away service (to collect). It will really be progress if a delivery service could be organisedÖ.
The next taverna after the Karaiskos Grill House is TAVERNA AKROGIALI. It serves a mixed traditional menu of local dishes, grilled meats and fish.
A little down the road from there you will find the cafeteria OASIS. Over the years this place has changed its name and purpose a few times, due to changes of management. Thankfully it has gone back to serving pizza and pasta dishes and a good range of Greek desserts and ice creams. It has a very large and attractive terrace with wooden pergolas at the front making it a very pleasant place for families and friends to hang out.
Exactly on the opposite corner is TAVERNA KALAMAKIA, another long established traditional eatery. In resent years the buildings have been upgraded. They now include an indoor rotisserie at the ground floor, a large dinning room at the first floor with a huge covered outdoor terrace and of course the covered terrace by the beach. I knew that it had always maintained its traditional Greek cuisine with grilled meats, fish and vegetarian dishes, but quite honestly I didnít quite realise how much more it had developed until it was commandeered to provide the meals for the Belgian bird watching groups in April 2003. Needles to say that our Belgian guests thought they landed in Paradise. Traditional Greek breakfasts, innovative and flavoursome packed lunches, three course evening meals with authentic Greek appetisers, main dishes as exotic as ink squid (soupia) and homemade desserts held them in raptures. Predictably the Samaras Wedding Reception in July was held there too, to great acclaim. Maria the owner and her husband Stratis the Chef, certainly are doing some sterling work in promoting gastronomy in Vatera. Their headwaiter another Stratis, (in the summer) speaks very good English, which certainly is a huge relief for English speaking customers.
Just a stoneís throw away, another favourite TAVERNA & ROTISSERIE JHONIS KOZANITIS is located. This year it opened its brand new buildings, with new state of the art kitchens, a much bigger rotisserie for the famous spit roasted chicken, a bar and the much-needed indoor dinning facilities for the cooler months. In the summer months your favourite dishes (kokoretsi, kondosouvli, kebabs or even chicken & chips) are still served outdoors underneath the shaded pergolas, making it a great experience. Of course the menu includes all the well-known and loved homemade traditional Greek dishes.
If you continue after Karavi at about 1 km distance you come upon HOTEL IRINI, 62 rooms with restaurant, huge dinning room, full indoor and outdoor facilities and a private beach. In the winter time it opens for functions and festivals with live Greek music and we have spend there very many enjoyable occasions having a great time.
In the summer we are usually too busy to visit. But this summer was the exception. We managed to take time to visit for a meal not once but three times, each time with friends or family. We left highly satisfied. The service was excellent, the wine bottle stored in a cooler on a stand by the table and the food expertly cooked. Amongst all the other Greek homemade delicacies we tasted, we had the sweater, juicier grilled pork tenderloin ever. On one occasion we even enjoyed live Greek music played by guitar and accordion. It was heavenly listening to the music by the moonlight. We didnít have the heart to leave, but all good things come to an end. Obviously this doesnít happen all the time. Itís something that the Hotel organises by special arrangement, if it is requested by a large group of guests staying there. But of course other customers of the Hotel restaurant benefit too. The good thing was that prices were very reasonable too.
Geographically Vatera ends at Hotel Irini. In the intervening distance between Café Bar Karavi and Hotel Irene, two outdoor beach clubs are located. The "Arena Beach Club" and the " Seventh Heaven". They open roundabout July and close at the end of August. If you like "clubbing" thatís the places to go. There are certainly very useful if you have youngsters in toe, that must have "entertainment" of the loud variety, but mature people go too. They are certainly an important part of the summer scene.
Going back to the Signs Junction and continuing to the west of Vatera, another long established eatery must be mentioned, TAVERNA NERAIDA. Over the years it continues the tradition of good home cooked cuisine, authentic Greek dishes and good service. I heard recently that the present Taverna buildings would be added to this winter, to increase the indoor sitting capacity, which is going to be very useful for spring and autumn visitors when low temperatures prevent outdoor dining facilities being an option.
If you keep going towards the Almyropotamos River, cross the bridge and carry on beyond it on the gravel road, you will be travelling through the silver green olive groves. Just after Villa Pouloudia on the left, you will notice a very basic sign directing you all the way down hill to TAVERNA PANORAMA. This sign is very unassuming and you tend to dismiss it. I know because I have done in the past to my shame! Further in, there is a much bigger overhead sign. Recently very late in the season (when the taverna was actually closed for business) I had the opportunity and the cause to venture that way and I must say that I was humbled. The location is absolutely magnificent. Sitting underneath the pergola in front of the taverna you can almost dangle your feet in the Aegean; the view to the headland of Agios Focas is phenomenal making this a vantage point for birdwatchers or painters wishing to paint the rugged coastline. We had a light al fresco vegetarian lunch prepared just for us by the obliging and multilingual owner Maria, of legumes (fasolada and fava), a vegetable stew (briami), new season green olives (tsakistes), Greek salad, homemade white cheese, tzatziki, homemade bread and local white and black grapes for desert, washed down with retsina and nothing could have been better. Our vegetarian friends were very happy. The menu of the taverna during the spring and summer months is much more extensive, to accommodate both vegetarians and carnivores therefore I promise a fuller report at the first given opportunity.
Leaving the Taverna Panorama and returning to the gravel road, turn left and continue until you reach the harbour of Agios Focas and another long standing favourite TAVERNA AKROTIRI, accredited by the Good Food Guide. Over the years the taverna has been enlarged to provide sheltered dining facilities, overlooking the picturesque harbour. Next to the taverna they grow their own organic vegetables. The specialities of the house are all to do with fresh fish and shellfish (quite a lot of it they fish themselves). They do an excellent lobster spaghetti, mussels saganaki, fried tiger prawns, octopus and all the traditional Greek side dishes (fried courgettes & aubergines, legumes, keftedes), salads and dips (tzatziki, taramosalata, melitzanosalata). However if fish is not your thing grilled meats (pork chops, lamb chops, sausages etc) are cooked to order.
The truth is that at Vatera you can eat at a different place each night and be more than satisfied. Apart from the venues I have written about this time, there are other places in Vatera where you can eat. They are not included in this report for mainly two reasons:
I didnít have the opportunity to eat there myself this summer and I had no customer reports to refer to.
The customer reports I may have received were not usable (and thatís all I am going to say about that!)
But donít rely just on my fond memories, come to Vatera, visit the tavernas and tell us all about it yourself !
Vrisa is a very traditional village, located 4 km from Vatera where the hub of life is in its square with the huge plane tree, called Platanos. In the summer or on high holidays it is a very busy place. It is quite busy in the winter too. It is the meeting place where no less than five cafeneions provide the facilities for the villageís social life. Two of those have been recommended for keeping the tradition of "ouzo and meze" alive and kicking with honour.
Having entered the village from the slip road by the Eco petrol station, past the Museum of Natural History and the Church of St. Constantine & St Helen, on your right side the second cafeneion from the corner is called MARIETAS and its always busy in the evenings serving ouzo and assorted dishes of meze cooked from whatever happens to be available or in season (grilled meats, fried fish etc.)
The other favourite cafeneion (with much the same cuisine) is the one on the far left corner past the Platanos square called KAFALOUKOS. Their prices are very very reasonable; one wonders how they do it.
If you like the Greek equivalent of fast food (souvlaki, pita gyros, sausages etc) there are two places in Polichnitos (9 km from Vatera), which you mustnít miss. The first one called KATOTRIOTIS is located next to the newsagents at the left in the main street. They also do pizza and pasta. You can eat there or have a take away.
The other place is located a little further up, a couple doors away from the VOUNATSOS Pastry Shop just as you turn the right corner. Itís a fairly new place called LA KYVELIA, and is busy every night. You can eat there or have a take away. When I feel indulgent or I have been away from home all day and I am too tired to cook I take a "take away" of what I fancy, not neglecting to visit the Vounatsos Pastry Shop for a treat for my sweet tooth. Of course my option is quite calorific but I console myself with the saying: "A little of what you fancy does you good".
Before I "skip" out of Polichnitos, I must give you a few more facts about the Vounatsos Pastry Shop or Confectionary. Itís another traditional family business, which over many years continues to provide the "sweet" element to provincial life. You can buy from a huge range of freshly made homemade goodies: cookies (sweet & savoury), pasties, gateaux, desserts, ice creams etc. They are all very tempting each time you go by. They also cater for functions. Their wedding cakes are legendary.
At Nyfida, the coastal hamlet located app. 5 km from Polichnitos, there are two excellent tavernas open all year around and are always busy.
The TAVERNA GRIGORIS is the first to come to, right on the beach. It has a large indoor seating capacity for winter, tables and chairs on the raised terrace in front of the taverna as well as tables and chairs almost on the beach. It is a family business, therefore the cuisine and service is very good. It has a very good reputation for good food and good prices and I must say whenever we had the opportunity to partake I canít say that we werenít satisfied. Portions seem huge and prices are very reasonable. The cuisine covers the whole traditional Greek range of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.
The TAVERNA GIOTIS is at the far end of the Nyfida beach, but none the worse for it. It has a smaller indoor seating capacity but lots of tables and chairs almost on the beach. There are very inventive in preparing meze dishes using local products with finger licking results. On two occasions this summer we visited supposedly for light ouzo lunches and ended up having a feast that didnít necessarily break the bank. The taverna is well known for serving very fresh fish at reasonable prices.
Skala Polichnitos is a small village in its own right; therefore the tavernas there stay open all year around. Some are open daily, others just at the weekends. The Greeks eat out regularly and Skala Polichnitou is a favourite because of the fresh fish and shellfish that arrives there with the fishing boats that fish the Gulf of Kalloni and the Aegean. Since January 2002 we had more opportunities to dine at Skala Polichnitos right through the year and each season had its own pleasures due to the seasonal catches.
As you get into Skala Polichnitou on your left you will find Katerinaís place. Itís an unpretentious little place, which doesnít look much more than a cafeneion. Itís double aspected with frontage at the harbour and is very much favoured by the fishermen. I remember in December 2002 having baked scallops, fresh oysters and steamed prawns there at a price where anywhere else in Europe wouldnít have paid the plonk and this is not the exception by any means.
Right next to Katerinaís is Zoumboulisís place, very similar little place but just as expert in serving you delicacies to make your mouth water.
As you are moving in the village on the one main road that will take you to the Salt Pans on your right there is another place (whose name I canít remember) that was the venue of several symposiums in October 2002, when we had the occasion to be eating out almost every night.
Further in, there is the capacious Taverna Giannarelis, a family taverna run by the 3rd generation of the same family as far as I know.
I believe there are another couple of tavernas at Skala but not having the personal experience of eating there I reserve judgement until the next edition.
Very recently we had the good fortune to be introduced to the TAVERNA AKROTIRI at Lisvori (not to be confused with the homonymous taverna at Agios Focas), which is located app. 300 m past the turning for the Alykoudi Pool and tucked away amidst the olive groves. Itís part of a self-catering accommodation complex complete with swimming pool, although from its far boundary wall the distance to the Lisvori beach is only 20 meters away. It had a very successful summer season due to the inimitable owner Stratis, who also plays bouzouki in the live Greek music band that performs there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. The taverna is open all year around and is jam-packed every weekend, providing good food and entertainment at bargain basement prices. The cuisine is traditional Greek (meat and vegetable) with the usual meze side dishes you can keep picking at all evening. You can have a wonderful time watching others dance a diverse range of regional and modern Greek dances or you can use your dancing feet too. I can promise you its great fun and worth the effort of getting there.
In October 2001 when we had attempted a coastal trail starting from Skala Polichnitos and ending at Achladeri, we visited Skala Vassilikon and we were amazed to find the two Tavernas at the little harbour as busy as beehives with visiting weekenders and locals.
At that time we had our meal at the Taverna of Mitsos & Anna an elderly couple who made very light work of taking orders, cooking and serving their customers with great efficiency and humour. Our experience is described in detail at the Virtual Tours Ė South Lesvos.
Much later we went back to Skala Vassilikon with friends to have a Sunday lunchtime meal at the other Taverna called Freggata (Frigate). We were really very impressed by the very fresh fish served there, which explained itself when we later found out that the owner is a fisherman and would not serve anything else but freshly caught fish at his taverna. If there is no catch because of adverse weather conditions, there is no fish on the menu. However the rest of the Greek traditional dishes on the menu more than compensate you. Sadly in the middle of summer there was a fire at the taverna, which has left the place gutted and obviously not open for business in the foreseeable. Lets hope that refurbishment will not be delayed for too long.
At the northern point of the Polichnitos region is the coastline location of Archea Pyrra and Achladeri. The travelling time from Vatera is app. 20 min. On the bend of the public road that eventually will take you to Kalloni and in front of the little bay is located what looks like on the outside like a roadside café. However itís not a café but a Taverna, called Archea Pyrra and run by the well-known Nondas. The low ceiling room with the huge seascape mural at the far wall is very cosy, although in the summer sitting outdoors and gazing into the wide blue wonder of the bay is very relaxing. It has an extensive menu of traditional Greek dishes, but also seafood and fish specialities. There is always a good variety of fresh fish cooked to order. Prices vary depending on the size (grade) of the fish.
This concludes the 3rd edition (2003) of TAVERNAS written by Dimitra with the much-appreciated contributions of clients, friends and business associates. Your views are always welcomed!