Have you ever fallen in love with a town just because the dining experience totally amazed you? It just happened to me in Tarpon Springs, Florida, after my memorable lunch at Hellas Greek Restaurant & Bakery. The town is laden with Greek dining options but I liked the look of Hellas best.
Tarpon Springs is Second to Being in Greece
My daughter, Peyton, friend Vada, and I visited Tarpon Springs to eat some authentic Greek cuisine. Tarpon Springs is a gorgeous seaside town made famous by their thriving natural sponge market. I had read that Tarpon contains the largest percentage of Greek Americans in the U.S. so I had pretty high expectations.
Once seated at Hellas Greek Restaurant and Bakery, our friendly server, a most gregarious young man, explained the menu. We opted for the Spreads Sampler for an appetizer and were later delivered a picture perfect dish of hummus, tzatziki, and feta spreads. The spreads were served with piping hot pita bread.
Our waiter also brought us fresh baked bread and butter. My thoughts were that the pita was the best I had ever had and the feta spread, out of this world! They were all delectable.
More Than Impressive Main Dishes
My very favorite Greek dish (boy it is hard to narrow down with this cuisine) is Moussaka, which was going to be my lunch entrée. It did not take much persuasion from our waiter to change my mind. After his suggestion, I ended up ordering the huge Combination Platter Meal. The combo meal included a sampling of Moussaka, Dolmades, Gyros, Pastitsio, and a side of Tzatziki sauce. If that wasn’t enough, these items were paired with Greek-style potatoes, peas, and rice pilaf.
For those of you who are not familiar with Greek foods, here is a brief description of my platter:
- Pastitsio- Casserole of ziti, ground beef, Romano cheese, and a creamy sauce
- Moussaka- Casserole of beef, eggplant, potatoes and a cheese sauce
- Dolmades- Grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, spices, and rice
- Gyros- Pita bread, meat (lamb), onions, tomato & sauce
- Tzatziki sauce- A delicious sauce made from garlic, sour cream, and cucumbers
Lunch was served and it looked fantastic. Peyton and I shared the enormous offering. She gobbled up the Gyros and Kalamata olives, but I chose the Pastitsio. Though grape leaves are popular, I am not a fan. I did love the peas; it helped break up the richness of the casserole items.
We all ate until we could barely move, and there was still food left. The Greek salad looked wonderful as well.
All That and a Bag of Chips
All the while we were eating, I enjoyed seeing the biggest group of servers I had ever witnessed, all scurrying around and taking care of their customers. Sangria was served to a lot of tables, as well as Saganaki, imported flaming cheese that was delivered to nearly every other table. The servers carrying the flaming dish would lead a group of waitstaff to the table and they would all cheer “OPA!” in unison as the flames got higher. I loved it!
The atmosphere at Hellas is a welcoming one; one where you feel appreciated, welcome, and part of a big family. Having owned restaurants in the past, seeing the waitstaff staying so busy was a pleasant change. The walls of the restaurant were painted with pretty and colorful Greek scenes and everything appeared very clean. The Hellas bakery is located next door and connected inside.
IMG_0526 (click the link to see the video of the flaming cheese)
A Sweet Ending to an Awesome Meal
At the end of our meal, we detoured through the bakery. My eyes nearly popped out of my head! It was swarming with customers, people standing in lines at the counters, as well as seated patrons waiting for servers, some lined out the door. Coffee drinks and pastries were being served at record speeds and the bakery staff was hustling even more than the impressive waitstaff in the restaurant.
I made my way to the counter after about 10 minutes of contemplating what I wanted. I purchased a whole box of pastries to share with my husband and neighbors, including Baklava, Flogeres, a slice of the Domino and Mickey pastas, and a Pourakia. Two boxes and $40 later, I headed out the door.
As I was leaving, the restaurant’s General Manager (Emmanual), stopped us. He took us aside to share the story of the Greek tradition for their special New Years bread, called Vassilopita, or St. Basil’s bread, and how to serve it. He gave us a small loaf and we did just what he instructed for our dinner that evening.
Call Me A Fan, For Sure
All in all, my Hellas Greek Restaurant experience made me a fan of Tarpon Springs; I cannot wait to go back. Though it is across the state from where I reside, it is not too far to go for a great meal like that. I hope you will try it some time. If you like Greek food, you are in for a real treat.
The story of the New Years Bread, or Vassilopita: The senior member of the family shall cut the loaf in the shape of a cross, and the 12-3:00 portion is in remembrance for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (nobody eats this piece). You will be left with 3 remaining pieces. Take the number of people you are sharing the bread with, and cut the bread to equal that many pieces. Each person is given a serving of bread.
Inside each loaf of bread is a gold wrapped coin. The person that finds the coin is thought to have the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness throughout the New Year. If nobody finds the coin and it remains in the bigger piece (the house piece) everyone will receive the blessings (or at least that was my take on the instructions, correct me if I am wrong).
Hellas Greek Restaurant and Bakery Photo Gallery:
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