A splendid Greek feist awaits everyone who visits the Aoz 7 tavern in the very heart of Epanomi, a small place in the vicinity of Thessaloniki. We came here after exchanging messages in Greek – thank you Google Translate! – and we were not sorry for that! Before we went to taste wines in the local winery Ktima Gerovassiliou, almost unprepared for a vast dinner made by chef and owner Katerina Skorditi while her two waitresses Konstantina Stoikou and Giota Potaridou were extremely helpful in understanding what we eat!
Greek cuisine is one of the most known in the world. A specific touch of culinary Mediterranean has its outlets in every capital of Europe and beyond. But apart from ever-present gyros and souvlaki, most would not know to count three or four major Greek dishes. And when it comes to regional cuisines such as this one, people may get lost in numerous names and appealing dishes that make your heart bump with joy!
Everywhere in Greece, small appetizers are offered for jolly starters of an ancient gastronomic journey. They are called meze and are often served with ouzo. The taverns serving such delicious bites are called ouzeri. They do not serve elaborate dishes but meze with ouzo and wine, with few main courses. In Aoz 7 we were indeed greeted with superb mezes that we enjoyed very much. Everything here is done from the scratch, using local ingredients, which leaves a pure taste of wonderful food!
It is customary to start the meal with some salad and Greek salad is a usual temptation for foreigners. While the Greek salad is indeed very tasty, it is better to go for the traditional salad of the house. It is a bomb of healthy ingredients from Epanomi consisting of lettuce, herbs, cherry tomatoes, homemade sesame seeds, balsamic oil, berries, and particularly dried Aronia from this region. Refreshing and somewhat sweet, this salad will definitely open your appetite!
A whole set of different mezes suddenly came to our table. It included feta cheese in the crispy crust with honey and sesame. At first, it may seem that this is a dessert combination but honey is a nice balancer in otherwise very interesting and delicious meze. Feta cheese is almost synonymous with Greece, it can be found in salads and as a starter on every corner in Greece. To unite cheese and honey is also not something unknown in the Mediterranean. Many local traditions use this combination of sheep products and heavenly bees to make life sweeter! To fry it with sesame is a great idea that ends with a superb taste of strong cheese and mild honey.
Various cheeses are proud of the Greek mainland. That is why it was also nice to try Bougiourdi, various baked types of cheese with tomatoes and peppers, a meal that adds a bit spiciness to an otherwise mild kitchen. This took us back to antiquity and stories of how Greeks started to make cheese. According to Greek mythology, the gods sent Aristaios, son of Apollo, to teach Greeks the art of cheese making. Another legend says that Cyclope Polyfimos was the first to prepare cheese. Transporting the milk that he collected from his sheep in skin bags made of animal stomachs, one day he realized to his great surprise that the milk had curdled and had taken a solid, tasty and conservable form. There is some sense in old legends!
A lot of vegetables is another feature of Greek cuisine. We were offered two very delicious veggie-based mezes. One is zucchini stuffed with rice, visually greatly appealing and served with cottage cheese and lemon. Another very tasty meze is Vasilopita. Today, it is a New Year’s sweet bread associated with Saint Basil’s Day. Traditionally, it contains a hidden coin or trinket which gives good luck to the receiver. In Aoz7, however, Vasilopita is based on an old-style recipe where this pita is prepared with minced meat and leek. In our opinion, the old way is the better way!
All these dishes are already followed by homemade wine from Epanomi and it blends perfectly with the food made by Mrs Katerina. We enjoyed it so much that a visitor at the nearby table offered us half a litre more! It is a beautiful gesture that shows the brightness of Greek hospitality. We sit on the terrace of this ouzeri, surrounded by dried chillies and garlic, old fashioned tables and a blue-and-white Greek flag. We talk to the owner and waitresses about the food and restaurant, but one question keeps popping into our mind – why Aoz 7 as the name of the ouzeri?!
Originally, this place was not a restaurant but only a café. Then Mrs managed to get a licence for preparing food as ouzeri. Because of its location, many people wanted to buy this place once it became a tavern. Mrs husband joked “we are like Aoz, everyone wants us”! Aoz, namely, is a Greek gas producer. Number seven is the house number and it was simply added to this name!
While we discuss the short history of Aoz7, we are served with familiar Greek meal – Keftedes. It is beautifully fried meatballs with fried potatoes. Keftedes (Greek meatballs) is a famous Greek appetizer, commonly served as part of a meze. An amazing Greek recipe was introduced to Greek cuisine at the beginning of the 20th century and has its origin from the city of Smyrni or modern-day Izmir. The secret ingredient that makes these oblong-shaped Greek meatballs unique is nothing else than cumin.
Our main course was chicken souvlaki on the vertical skewer! Very interestingly served, this is big souvlaki of juicy grilled chicken with peppers flavoured with spices and garnished with crispy potatoes, rice, and a nice sauce. In Greek culture, the practise of cooking food on spits or skewers historically dates back to the Bronze Age. Souvlaki skewers served as fast food started to be sold widely in the 1960s and is today very much street food in Greece. To make good souvlaki, however, there should be a significant culinary experience. This is evident in Aoz7, as Mrs Katerina is the third generation chef in her family! The love for food goes through the woman’s line as her mother and grandmother were also known cooks.
Grilled octopus with aubergines is a traditional dish from Epanomi. Very soft octopus (again compliments to the chef!) blends beautifully with the aubergines in a meal that is so very much Greek! Seafood and vegetables is combined in Greece since time immemorial. Octopus is an ancient fascination of Greek people. Early Minoan ceramics have often octopus as its motifs. In Greek Mythology, the Kraken (Scylla) takes the form of a giant octopus. In other cultures, the Kraken was said to look similar to giant crabs and have characteristics like that of giant whales. It is most often depicted as an octopus-like creature that has spikes on its suckers. This “monster” from the deeps was indeed a subject of fascination that is continued to this day!
Beautiful desserts rounded up our gastronomic voyage in Epanomi. In a very seasonal fashion, our hosts prepared us beautiful quince with almonds in a fruit sauce and sweet pumpkin with nuts. It was again a very balanced dish, where no taste is over-aggressive. This is the main feature we got from Aoz7, where amazing Greek cuisine is made every day. Be part of it!
Neo Parko, 57500 Epanomi, Greece
+30 2392 181066