Greek Islands Taverna is walking distance from Aunty’s condo in Fort Lauderdale. This is not fancy Greek cuisine, rather it’s home cooking that a Greek would eat at home with his/her family. The tavern is owned and operated by two Greek brothers who brought traditional Greek fare to Fort Lauderdale. Greek Canadians often turn their nose up at American Greeks, finding them more “American” than “Greek.” They don’t often speak much Greek, nor know much about Greek culture, uphold Greek traditions or return to Greece rather often.
We were curious to see what traditional Greek food meant to Greek Floridians. We sat down and immediately a waiter brought some, albeit a little dry, baguette and hummus. In general Greeks don’t eat hummus, nor baguette, preferring Greek style pita (which is thicker than Arabic pita) or country (aka village) bread. The hummus itself was weak, the taste of chickpeas was oddly not particularly pronounced.
Tyrokafteri is a blend of feta cheese with olive oil and hot peppers – a delicacy amongst Greeks! We started with the tyrokafteri which was pleasantly spicy (as it should be), although oddly it was green. Usually it’s red or orange in colour but they must have used green hot peppers. Often times tyrokafteri is made up of both red bell peppers and hot red peppers. Though different, this spicy feta cheese dip is definitely something that you should order at Greek Islands Taverna.
Saganaki is hard to ruin unless you don’t serve it piping hot. Greek Islands Taverna did not disappoint here either, a generous piece of kefalotiri cheese was fried to gooey perfection. Served on a cast iron pan which kept the cheese piping hot, and with the customary lemon wedge, we were soon wondering if we should order a second serving.
Without any competition our favourite dish was the octopus. We don’t know if it is because we are in Florida, but the octopus was some of the freshest that we have ever tasted in North America. Not too chewy and perfectly tender, this was the winner of the evening. Dressed lightly with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, oregano and parsley, we licked the plate clean.
Greeks love lightly coating smelts in flour and pan frying them in very hot oil. Perfect with fresh lemon juice, the coating should be crispy so that the smelts can be eaten whole, head, tail and all. Diva #1 has a particular amusing memory of her daddy feeding Sweet Pea smelts, head first into her mouth, all the while she tried refusing to eat them out of principle. He never was particularly good with knowing his limits!
The smelts at Greek Islands Taverna could have been cooked a touch longer for added crispiness but were nonetheless tasty and not too oily. Not fishy at all, the heads and tails were removed since they were larger than the little ones found in Greece. Like the good Greek family that we are we also ordered a Greek horiatiki (village) salad on the side. It was made up of the usual tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, feta and Kalamata olives all at room temperature. Their feta could have been less American and more Greek, meaning more pungent. But the extra virgin olive and oregano dressing was perfectly Greek.
We ordered the roast chicken Ladoregano which is an organic half chicken seasoned in the usual Greek lemon, oregano and extra virgin olive oil dressing with potatoes made in the same manner and roast vegetables. This is one of the specialties of the house and what Greek Islands Taverna is known for, Greeks do love their chicken – Greek style!
They use Bell & Evans chicken from Pennsylvania, not the usual chicken that you find in your local supermarket. Butcher shops and whole food or natural markets sell this particular chicken in Florida. When a simple dish elicits such gushing comments it is all about the quality of the ingredients. They used the best extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and dried oregano leaves that are still very aromatic. The secret is in perfecting the simplest ingredients, not adding anything new.
We were recommended the baklava cheesecake for dessert and we were worried that it would be more of a gimmick than tasty but we assure you that it was delicious. It wasn’t too sweet at all and flaky phyllo dough hugged the baklava cheesecake filling just like in traditional baklava. Normally we aren’t that crazy about Greek baklava since it is often too sweet because of the honey but we loved this cheesecake, it was perfect.
Other traditional Greek mains that are served at Greek Islands Taverna include pastistio, lamb youvetsi, moussaka, avgolemono soup, etc. We’ve heard very good things about their grilled lamb chops and baked butterfly shrimp, something to try on a future visit. If you’re looking for a traditional Greek restaurant, nothing too fancy, in Fort Lauderdale Florida, we recommend Greek Islands Taverna!
Our Rating: Splendid
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