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Why are so many Greek restaurants suddenly opening in Boston?

Chef Michael Schlow in his new restaurant Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

With more than 80,000 residents claiming Greek ancestry, Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of Greeks in the country. Until recently, Greek food has largely been available at no-frills neighborhood spots and lively food festivals held at the Greek Orthodox churches where Pascha — Easter — will be celebrated on Sunday.

But this is changing. Suddenly, Greek flavors are finding a place in fine dining. Within the past year alone, Boston has seen the arrival of Committee in the Seaport, Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar in Park Square, Pelekasis in the South End, and Saloniki in the Fenway. In the South End, Kava Neo-Taverna is slated to open soon (the owners are awaiting a beer and wine license).

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“It’s crazy how many restaurants are popping up left and right,” says Nick Stamoulis, whose website GreekBoston.com chronicles all things Greek. “It’s exposing Greek cuisine to tons of people.”

This isn’t just happening in Boston, says Eric Moscahlaidis, president of the New York-based Greek Food and Wine Institute and Krinos Foods, an importer and producer. He’s seen about a dozen new Greek restaurants debut in New York over the past few years, and he’s noticed more in San Francisco, too.

Why now? It might start with all that Greek yogurt we’ve been consuming, Moscahlaidis says. “The popularity of Greek yogurt has just exploded over the last few years, which has brought attention to the cuisine and its healthfulness,” he says. “The food is the basis of the Mediterranean diet, which has been recognized as probably the most healthful on the planet. And it tastes great.”

Another important factor: young entrepreneurs from Greece, or of Greek ancestry, who are launching businesses that reflect their roots. As an example, Moscahlaidis cites Eric Papachristos, who teamed with chef Jody Adams (Rialto, Trade) and Jonathan Mendez on Saloniki, opened in March. The restaurant is named after Thessaloniki, where Papachristos lived as a young child. Along with modernized gyros, the menu includes Yiayia’s (grandmother’s) soup, made with white beans, preserved lemon, and herbs. “It’s a big personal project for him,” said Moscahlaidis.

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‘A rebirth’

Demetri Tsolakis, general manager and partner of Committee, calls it “a rebirth” of Greek cuisine in Boston.

“I think people saw a lack of cuisine in the city,” he says. “Greece is all over the news now. The food is fresh, and can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone.”

Committee, which opened in June, offers a menu designed around meze, small, shareable dishes such as spanakopitakia (spinach pies), grilled octopus, olive salad, and dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and pine nuts). This puts the focus on social enjoyment, “bringing people together over food and drink,” he says. “Being a son of Greece, that’s our culture. We’re trying to bring Greece to you.”

Tsolakis’s family hails from Aigio, a town about two hours west of Athens. He visits Greece twice a year. Tsolakis grew up around Greek food and worked at his family’s restaurant, Mykonos, a casual Greek spot in Springfield.

“It was my life,” said Tsolakis. “It was in my blood.”

When Tsolakis attended college in Boston from 2001 to 2004, and in the years after, he noticed there weren’t many Greek restaurants in Boston. “For 12 years there were no Greek restaurants,” he says. “Now was the time to do it.”

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The owners of Kava Neo-Taverna — George Axiotis, Irakli Gogitidze, and Shahrokh Reza — agree. They saw their opportunity when they secured a space on Shawmut Avenue in the South End. Axiotis, who hails from Lesvos, Greece, devised a menu that includes tzatziki, melitsanosalata (eggplant salad), tirokafteri (cheese spread), lavraki (sea bass), and loukaniko (sausage). He ordered glassware from Greece, and photos of Greek celebrities adorn the walls. “We’re very excited,” says Reza.

Celebrating their heritage

Chef Brendan Pelley pays homage to his Greek roots with Pelekasis, a Greek pop-up restaurant currently housed within South End speakeasy/“culinary incubator” Wink & Nod. Pelekasis is Pelley’s family name: “My papou [grandfather] was in the radio business, and he changed his name when he got into that business so he wouldn’t face discrimination,” he said. “And there’s a lot less syllables to pronounce.”

His menu includes One Hundred Layer Spanakopita, inspired by his mom’s spinach pie; house-made pita and cucumber tzatziki; pork loin souvlaki; and slow-roasted leg of lamb. “I grew up eating Greek food,” he says. After researching family recipes and traveling to Greece, “I fell in love with it.”

But Pelley serves his classic dishes with creative, modern twists. When he looks at the reservation list each night, he sees a lot of Greek names. “They’re excited about a new style of Greek food,” he says.

When he came up with the idea for Pelekasis, “there was a hole in the market for a chef-driven Greek restaurant,” he says. “And there were a number of other chefs seeing the same hole in the market.”

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Pelley welcomes the new wave of Greek cuisine. It’s not just people jumping on a bandwagon, he says. “It’s a good thing. They’re doing it for all the right reasons.”

New visibility

Manos Linoxilakis always wanted to open a Greek restaurant. He did so in December 2014 with Cafe Med in the Back Bay. “I understand Greek food,” says Linoxilakis, who was born in Athens and grew up on the island of Crete. “I feel very comfortable doing it.”

Cafe Med serves breakfast and lunch — Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts, avgolemono or chicken-lemon-egg soup, souvlaki, kebabs, and more. He recently hired a new chef, George Panagopoulos, who moved from Athens to the United States as a result of the Greek financial crisis. “I think Greek cuisine is well known,” says Linoxilakis. “And it’s becoming more well known in Boston.”

Its visibility is certainly increasing. About a 2-minute walk from Cafe Med is Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar, which chef Michael Schlow (Tico, Alta Strada) opened in the fall of 2015. Doretta — the name comes from the Greek word “doro,” meaning “gift” — has been billed as “Boston’s first stylish Greek Taverna.” It replaced Via Matta, the Italian restaurant Schlow ran in the space for 14 years.

Schlow was inspired by the family recipes of his wife, Adrienne; his father-in-law was born in Sparta, in southern Greece. Fresh. Clean. Healthy. Seasonal. These are some of the words Schlow uses to describe Greek cuisine. Doretta’s menu features fresh whole fish, grilled octopus, traditional village salad, and other dishes brightened by olive oil, lemon, and fresh herbs.

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Diners will find spinach pies; soothing braised chicken with tomato, cinnamon, and butter, served with crispy black rice; lamb shoulder slow-roasted for 15 hours, based on “what we’d have at Greek Easter,” he says. “It just falls off the bone.” (In fact, the dish is part of a special prix fixe menu Doretta is serving for Greek Easter May 1.)

“The food, the ambience, the energy of the place just resonate with what people want,” he says. He believes Greek food’s time has come: “I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.”


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.