I would be a damn fool if I told you that Greece had a banner year for tourism. It didn’t. In most of the places that I visited you couldn’t tell there’s was a major drop in business, although business owners were harping about the drop in receipts. From the perspective of the tourist, it looked like another busy year in most of the places I visited in Greece but Athens was different. The drop in tourism was evident.
Grumpy unionists continued to urge strikes and after some vivid and saddening news flashing around the world one summer day in Athens, more cancellations were called in to Greek travel agencies. Athens’ drop in tourism was no more visible than when one visited the neighboring districts of Plaka and Monastiraki. These two neighborhoods cater mainly to tourists with souvenir shops, antique stores and cafes and restaurants lined side-by-side in the narrow alleyways. My biggest peeve (be it in Greece or elsewhere) is the touter who tries to draw patrons into the store. The touter can be seen outside of souvenir shops, bars but it’s mostly restaurants serving garbage food to tourists. What do they care…you’ll likely never come back, right?
That is unless, you had the pleasure of having lunch at “Thanassi’s'” in Monastiraki. I’ve been to Athens on many occasions and only this year I had my first kebab at Thanassi’s (ran in the opposite direction of the taverna-touters). When traveling (to Greece as well) I always tell my friends to avoid the tourist-traps and to not eat at any establishment that tries to coax you in. However, many Athenians will also tell you that there are places to stop for a drink, have a coffee or grab a bite amid the touristy surroundings. Thanassi’s qualifies as one of the exceptions.
Fresh back from my visit to Crete, I found myself stopping in Athens to meet with some friends and break up the trek back to Thessaloniki. Athens is good for three days: get in there, see your friends, eat and drink your way through this city of 5 million and get out! On day one of being in Athens I arranged to meet up with Laurie, cookbook author and blogger (Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska). She lives in Anchorage, Alaska, is married to a Greek fellow with roots in Limnos and she and hubby comeback to Greece each summer (much like me).
Laurie and I talked about blogging, we had a blogger’s version of “show & tell” with our day’s purchases of cookbooks and before you could say “Monastiraki”…we were hungry. Laurie and her husband have made it a ritual to visit Thanassi’s each year and who was I to break this tradition? Getting to Thanassi’s is easy. In the photo below is a Byzantine-era church across from the Monasitiraki train starion. Walk towards it and then turn right to enter an alleyway. Once you enter that alley, you will see Thanassi’s to your right. Grab a seat and simply order a kebab dinner.
Thanassi’s has all the usual Greek taverna fare but they do one thing well and that’s their Kebab. Thanassi’s kebab is made of ground beef (and likely some pork in the mix). The mixture has to have some fat content so as to help the mince hold together and onto the long, flat skewers as they are suspended over a hot charcoal grill. Thanassi’s kebabs do not make direct contact with the grill.
One can order the full kebab dinner and be sated with four ( YES FOUR) kebabs served on a pita with a mound of sweet and thinly sliced red onions and sweet, skewered tomatoes that are simultaneously grilled alongside the kebabs. These kebabs are juicy, very falvourful, the pita bread always fresh, lightly grilled and not greasy and the grilled tomatoes – super sweet and one of the best representations of Greece’s summer bounty. I admire a restaurant that cares enough to serve ripe, sweet tomatoes.
Both Laurie’s husband and I were in agreement, the return of Fix Hellas beer was a pleasant surprise in Greece. Drinking lots of ice cold Greek beer is good you (really)!
An order of fries was “de riguer”…When in Greece? Have a Greek Salad, no? The Greek Salad (Horiatiki) contains no lettuce…just ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, olives, Feta cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. Wine vinegar may be added.I also really enjoyed Thanassi’s house-made Tzatziki. The Makedona in me ordered a plate of some hot green peppers.Thanassi’s won’t win any creativity in the kitchen awards but their menu items are made well, taste great, will fill the bellies of the most-hungry gluttons and a meal won’t put a large dent in your wallet.
Kebab “O Thanassi’s” is located on Mitropoleos 69 in the Monastiraki, Athens and I will certainly go back next year.
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