Olive oil, lemon, feta cheese, herbs, phyllo and lamb might be the first few things that come to mind when one thinks of a traditional Greek dinner, but like many cuisines from around the globe, there’s so much more to discover.
Not only that, but these days you’ll also find many Greek restaurants from across Canada serving up a more modern take on the centuries-old food culture.
Modern Greek food respects the roots of Greek cuisine (and its regional characteristics) and fuses them with contemporary cooking techniques and ingredients from around the world. Greek food really is a mashup of different cultures, thanks to their history.
Greece's culinary tradition dates back hundreds of years and has evolved over time to absorb many diverse influences. Greek dishes have been influenced by the East when the Persians invaded Greece. When the Romans invaded they brought with them cultural staples such as pasta and sauces. Arab traders brought over spices like cumin, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
To sum it up, Greek food has taken a bit from many cultures and made its own identity.
Greek gastronomy continues to surprise diners by deconstructing rustic dishes and synthesizing them to be creatively presented on a plate without losing the integrity of ancient Greek cuisine.
Here are five contemporary Greek eateries across Canada that do a great job of showcasing just how vibrant and robust its food culture can be.
As soon as you enter the interior of Myth, a massive 5,000 square-foot restaurant, you’re transported to the sleek side of Mykonos. The colour palette is earthy, woody, sandy and rocky much like the island. The statement light beams draw your eyes up to create an instant sense of grandeur, while at eye level the stone entrance, pottery and murals directly imported from Greece mimic an art gallery.
Thanks to chef Nikitas Pyrgis from Greece and executive chef Sergio Abruhno, the new additions to the menu are just as dramatic and notable as the restaurant itself. New dishes include a spinach pie “salad” (think deconstructed spanakopita), lamb hilopites made with slow-cooked lamb shoulder, lemon, graviera and long Greek pasta. We highly recommend ordering the flaming saganaki that’s lit on fire at the table, piri piri prawns and beef carpaccio.
Don’t forget to pull in the sommelier to try some unique and delicious Greek wines that smell very different than they taste in the best possible way.
Myth is located at 522 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1L7.
Mamakas Taverna (Toronto)
Mamakas does a great job of highlighting elevated yet rustic Aegean cuisine from both the land and the sea. Their produce includes a daily trip to the market for ripe and fragrant ingredients, a trusted butcher for fresh paidakia (Greek lamb chops) and the local fishmonger for the daily catch.
On the menu, Aegean oktapódi is served with PDO santorini fava and caper leaves, char-grilled lamb xhops, grilled and butterflied Mediterranean sea bass with santorini capers and citrus do not disappoint.
Can’t forget about the classics such as the horiatiki which is a giant block of PDO feta layered on top of fresh Ontario tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, olive tapenade and a generous dose of good olive oil. So simple, refreshing and salty.
Mamakas Tavern is located at 88 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z4.
Bar Koukla (Toronto)
Although Koukla shares the same owners as Mamakas, it carries a very different vibe and cuisine. It’s relaxed, intimate, furnished with dreamy copper fixtures and it’s a meze and wine bar. Koukla is described as the younger, more rebellious sibling to the original Mamakas because it’s open later and the music plays louder.
The menu carries 15 sharing plates. Personally, I love the warm koulouri (sesame bread) with whipped honey butter and bee pollen, the dakos toast made with seasonal mushroom, peas, feta, tomato and anchovy, the Ontario lamb ribs and of course, the baked feta wrapped in phyllo and covered in pomegranate.
They carry a lovely selection of natural biodynamic Greek wines from the volcanic island vineyards to the mountains. However, I think it’s mandatory to go back on the weekend for their seasonal Sunday brunch which is calling our name.
Bar Koukla is located at 88 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z4.
The Greek by Anatoli (multiple locations: Yaletown, Gastown, North Vancouver)
You can't go to Anatoli without getting their famous Greek salad that comes with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, capers, olives and feta (and they do offer vegan coconut feta as a substitute for those of who can’t have dairy).
The Greek in Yaletown and Gastown are more modern and have proper seating ambience. They also have a solid happy hour from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. daily that includes a mezze platter, grilled keftedes, orzo salad and more.
New menu items at all three locations include a watermelon salad with strawberries, basil, tomatoes and pesto dressing, orzo salad with zucchini, peppers, kalamata olives, Greek feta, fresh tomatoes, capers and a tahini dressing, five-hour braised lamb shank and more. Gluten-free and vegan diners won't go home hungry.
The Greek By Anatoli is located at 1043 Mainland St, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 5P9.
Restaurant Ikanos (Montreal)
Although Ikanos restaurant has been around since 2014, the menu has been refined to serve up a unique gastronomic experience where ingredients are cooked in an inventive way — enter sea urchin mousse. Ikanos is a seafood heavy, market inspired restaurant.
The restaurant is equipped with a new dry-aged fish bar, which means there’s a new dry-aged fish bar menu, serving up a selection of Mediterranean sashimi. This is an uncommon technique by chefs outside of Japan. Chef Constant Mentzas dry-ages fish just as you would beef. By drying out the skin, the chef explains that the texture of the fish changes, the skin becomes firmer and gives it a crispier exterior when cooked.
The restaurant is also furnished with a Josper charcoal grill which means everything from meats, veggies and seafood will have that smoky, juicy, tender taste you can only get from charcoal.
If you’re looking to experience modern Greek fare in Montreal this is the spot.
Restaurant Ikanos is located at 112 McGill St #1, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 2E5