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Kriti: Cretan Comforts

Kriti, photo by Manteau Stam

It all started about six years ago, when Cretan cuisine – food from Crete, one of Greece’s largest and most famous islands – became fashionable in Athens. Suddenly, Cretan restaurants started popping up all around the city. Traditional Cretan dishes such as the rustic dakos (barley rusk in extra-virgin olive oil topped with finely chopped tomato and mizithra, a light, crumbly white cheese with a slightly sour aftertaste) became popular in Greek tavernas.

Unlike those fashionable restaurants, though, Kriti (“Crete”) predates the Cretan fad and – more importantly – serves the real thing. Hidden in one of Athens’ many arcades and in a rather unappealing location, drab and hectic Kanigos Square in downtown Athens, Kriti is a shrine to everything Cretan. Cast-iron figures of famous Cretans hang on the walls, while the music that sometimes blares through the speakers is usually that of Nikos Xylouris, the island’s most famous singer. Be warned, however, that this is not your average restaurant. It does not even have a menu; the owner and his daughter or his wife will come over to your table and list the dishes on offer.

The menu is dazzling in both quality and variety. Most people opt for a number of starters, washed down with raki. Our favorites include stamnagathi (a spicy wild herb, boiled and best served with lemon), saganaki (fried feta in phyllo pasty with honey and sesame seeds), baby tomatoes filled with spicy soft cheese, xoxlioi (snails in garlic) and apaki (smoked Cretan pork that has been marinated in vinegar).

Not to be missed are the delicacies from Sfakia in Southwest Crete: pita sfakiani (a fried pie made with mizithra cheese) or sausage from that area. Dessert – usually dried apricots filled with cream – is on the house.

Kriti is not a place to go for a quick bite; prepare to spend a minimum of three hours here. The service is quite slow as there are simply not enough people working at the restaurant to meet demand, but that’s really part of the charm. Every time you remind Takis, the owner, that you need the bill, he’ll serve you another round of raki. Try finding authentic hospitality like that in some of the other “Cretan” joints in town.

Address: Veranzerou 5, Kanigos Square
Telephone: +30 210 382 6998
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11am-11:30pm; closed Sunday

(photos by Manteau Stam)

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5 comments
lil_khachapuri_82
lil_khachapuri_82

Love the blog and the fantastic recommendations! We made use of this one and Stani on a trip to Athens in late May 2013. We took the advice of the previous poster and avoided over-ordering, sharing the cheese stuffed tomatoes, saganaki, the kind of barley based bruschetta whose name I don't know in Greek ("Cretan rusk" on their lovingly translated English menu) and the Cretan sausages between two people, along with a carafe of the house white. All were delectable, especially the saganaki, which my travel mate claims set me off into a several second long eyes-closed reverie. And to top it all off, we got an extra carafe of wine and a bill at 23  EUROS!!  It was definitely the cheapest and best restaurant meal we had in Greece.

Cherry Chapman
Cherry Chapman

I have really enjoyed your blog and it has been helpful in planning my first visit to Athens. Concerning the safety

Frank Hodgkins
Frank Hodgkins

Two of us went to this restaurant on a beautiful September night in 2012 and ate on their terrace in the square, which private security has made safe. We were given a menu, and mistakenly chose one of the "recommended" menus in the back pages: fours starters and two main dishes, with dessert on the house and an all-too-easy-to-drink, very good house white wine. I say mistakenly, because this is much too much food for two people... but just as delicious and interesting as this reviewer promised! The service was much quicker than the reviewer warned it would be - we were served by the owner's daughter: fast, efficient and friendly. Our tab for all this food and drink came to 49 euros, a real bargain considering that 4 people could have easily been well fed with what we were served! And yes, beware of the raki!!!!

CB Editor
CB Editor moderator

@lil_khachapuri_82Thanks for your lovely note! We're very happy to hear you had such a great meal at Kriti - it's definitely one of our favorite places in Athens.

CulinaryBackstreets.com
CulinaryBackstreets.com

Cherry, Thanks for the question. Here's what CB's Athens correspondent, Despina Trivolis, has to say: "Hi, We are glad we could be of help in planning your first trip to Athens. All the subway stations in Athens have police and/ or private security and are quite safe at all hours. If you want to visit Kriti at night, though, I would avoid getting off at Omonoia (the nearest metro station to Kriti – a 5 min walk) and get off at the Panepistimio station instead (an 8-10 min walk). It’s a safer walk. If you want to visit during the day there is nothing to worry about when walking from Omonia. We ‘ve already reviewed to Mavro Provato here http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/athens/2012/to-mavro-provato/ so it comes highly recommended. I can’t say I have been to Trikyklo but I have heard good comments about it. Klimataria I am not so sure about, to be honest. If you are looking an old-fashioned taverna try Karavitis, the first place reviewed on this feature: http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/athens/2012/paidakia/"

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