Tavernas are one of the great Greek traditions. They're the place to go to have a beer, to watch a soccer game, or to catch up with friends. They're also the perfect place to go for simple, delicious, and unfussy food.
This menu steals some of my favorite taverna dishes. They're all meant to be eaten family style—in other words, passed around the table followed by a carafe of wine. Dips served with hot fluffy pita bread start the meal, and a large bowl of vegetable-laden horiatiki makes a refreshing summer side. The main event is a whole branzino, stuffed with herbs and baked in a salt crust.
When my table is deciding on which mezze to order, I always make sure to get taramosalta in the mix. This dip gets its pink hue from carp roe, though cod can also be used. The briny little balls are mixed with breadcrumbs, lemon juice, and olive oil. The result is a creamy, salty spread that's incredibly addictive.
We always have to put in a double order of tzatziki, because I can eat it by the gallon. I like it alone or spread on pita, alongside fish or with an assortment of vegetables. Cucumber makes it light and refreshing, while garlic adds bite and olive oil imparts just a hint of fruity richness.
Horiatiki, also known as Greek salad, is often misunderstood here in the United States. So let's get a few things straight. There is no lettuce in horiatiki. There is no chicken and no creamy dressing. Horiatiki contains just vegetables, olives, and a few pats of fresh feta cheese. Eat it in the summer and you'll see that ripe tomatoes and cucumbers don't need anything more than a light dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste their best.
Salt Crusted Branzino
The Mediterranean fish branzino (also known as lavraki, loup de mer, or spigola) has firm white flesh and a delicate flavor. In this recipe, the whole fish is stuffed with lemon and rosemary, then baked in a salt crust. The salt forms a shell which traps the moisture inside as the fish cooks. If you want to impress your guests, crack the salt crust apart and fillet the fish table side.