Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Little Pizza Heaven

By and large, you'd be correct in assuming that me and the better half don't generally eat non-Greek when eating out. The growing number of Indian, Chinese and a few other international cuisine-catering restaurants on the Greek islands is a constant puzzlement to me. I mean, why come to Greece to eat Indian, nice though Indian cuisine is of course?

In recent decades the choice of home cooking available in Greek tavernas has become huge and to eat out "Greek" nowadays is a complete delight. I'm old enough to remember the seventies when eating out on a Greek island would all too often have been a matter of souvlaki and chips, grilled fish and chips, pork chop and chips - in fact anything you like as long as it was grilled and came with chips (yet another opportunity here to refer back to this old post!). You seldom saw anything green on your plate in those days. Now, though, Greek restaurants everywhere have embraced the need to offer their clientele the opportunity to sample and thus fall in love with the gamut of delicious Greek home cuisine and thus many gourmand tourists now come here for the food as much as for anything else.

Here on Naxos, where we're passing our second Naxian holiday in two years, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to eating out. Generally the food quality is excellent to superb and it's a culture here too to present diners with a freebee or three at the end of their meal. Living as we do on Rhodes I have to fess up to the fact that it's not something that happens often enough there for my liking. When we eat out at home the food is usually good, yes, but to receive a free dessert or drink at the end seems to me to be the exception rather than the rule. For what it costs the establishment I really do feel that it's a bit shortsighted, as it so often makes a big difference as to whether diners will repeat visit or not.

Here on Naxos, as we complete our first week back here since April 2014, we've already had a free half-litre of wine placed before us at least three times, along with beers, ouzo, orange pie with ice-cream, halva and a few other bits and pieces besides. Plus we have the distinct impression that eating out here is marginally cheaper than Rhodes too. This is a puzzle because Naxos is a more "select" island, TBH. It's not on the major tourist trail owing to the difficulty of getting here and the visitors tend to be slightly more independent and upmarket (not wishing to offend our fellow ex-pat Rhodeans, just generalising you understand!!) than on Rhodes.

So, since he expounds on his love of Greek cuisine, why does he head this post with a photo of a Pizza joint and indeed call it "A Little Pizza Heaven"?

Why indeed. I'll get to that in a mo. 

First though, basically we've kind of whittled it down to four favourite eating houses here, which is not to say that there aren't a zillion others. It's purely a matter of expediency. You can't go everywhere, you wouldn't have time, and when you've had such a good eating experience, you do want to go back right? So, our faves are:

Frankly, we couldn't place an order of priority between the three tavernas mentioned there. They're all superb for different reasons. The Metaxi Mas is impossibly beautiful. Check out these photos below:

That's the view from the main entrance of the taverna. Be honest, it would be hard to think of a more picturesque location for a traditional taverna, eh?

The photo above this one was taken while standing in that doorway. 

A Greek couple were having a meal at the table just outside the front door when I took this  - with an audience.

The Scirocco has a really friendly and warm team of staff that always make you feel like long, lost friends. When we showed up there the other night they made as though they'd put aside a table just for us (after I'd posted on their Facebook page that we were coming back after 2 years). 

Swordfish at the Scirocco - yumm-mmy! My beloved ordered the grilled vegetables and I chose the baked potato, packed with Tzatziki (which is easy for me to say [warning: plug there!!])
Maro's is legendary for its huge portions. I haven't taken any photos there this year yet. But there are quite a few on their Facebook page. We've eaten at Maro's several times and very often gone home with a "doggy-bag" which has given us lunch for the following day. They're always happy to provide a tin-foil tray with a cardboard top to take home what you can't eat on the night. Take my word seriously - you'll be needing it.

So, to return to Pizzadelia. If we were pushed to admit what is our absolute fave eating place here on Naxos, we'd both say without a moment's hesitation, Pizzadelia. Why, you cry (again!)?

First, let me explain something about Italian cuisine and the Greeks. Now, I know that lots of you (see the inherent optimism in that remark? "Lots" indicating that more than one person will end up reading this stuff) will already know this, but there will always be some who don't know and so this brief explanation is for these.

The Italians occupied Greece before the Nazis came. Of course, any Brits who love David Suchet in the long-running UK TV series Poirot will know this because in the episode that was filmed on Rhodes, which was set between the wars of course, there were Italian officials everywhere. Whilst the Greeks would rather not have lived under the Italians, they did rather benefit from their presence in several ways. Firstly, when the Nazis came it led to a lot of Greeks longing for the days of the Italian occupation merely from making the comparison between the methods of the occupiers, but also the buildings that the Italians constructed and left behind as a long-term legacy are so pleasing that the Greeks are today quite proud of them.

All the major buildings along the harbour-front at Mandraki in Rhodes were built by the Italians, including the National Bank of Greece, the Courthouse, the Port Authority office, the Post Office, the Theatre, the Town Hall and so on. The wonderful and recently restored pavilions at Kallithea Springs were designed and constructed by the Italians.

But probably the most interesting legacy from the Italian occupation is the Greek penchant for Italian food, especially Pizza. There are several "Greek" dishes which are really leftovers from the Italians, notably a few that contain pasta. Much Greek cuisine is of course exceedingly similar to Turkish too, for obvious reasons, but when it comes to Italian, they're a lot less reluctant to admit to the connection.

So, finally, here it is, the stuff about Pizzadelia. We first visited Pizzadelia two years ago because the place was always well patronised by the local Greeks, as is often the case all over Greece with Italian restaurants. Back then it was situated in a tiny premise just across the square from the Scirocco, which meant that when we were eating in one we could wave at the staff in the other. This proved most fortuitous because, on our last night of almost a month spent here that time around, we ate at the Scirocco. Owing to the relationship that we'd built up with both establishments, that didn't put anyone's nose out of joint. In fact, we were brought a free carafe of wine part-way through the meal and told by Nikos the waiter that it was a parting gift from Manoli, who runs Pizzadelia. He'd only gone and seen us, given us a wave and then phoned them and asked them to do it, and pass on his compliments. Not only is that a fine reflection of the man but also of this island in general.

Pizzadelia has now moved to a spot just a few metres down the beach road from the square and it's a much nicer place (see photo at the top). It's bigger for starters. When we went looking for the place after arriving this year we were mortified to find it no longer where we'd expected it to be. Fortunately we were able to ask in the old place, which is now a smart bakery, and they were pleased to tell us how to find it. Plus I still had Manoli's e-mail address and he replied promptly to my plea confirming that he'd moved.

It's always a bit daft to say stuff like "it's the best I've ever tasted" or the "best Italian I've ever eaten at" but I'm sorely tempted to use those expressions regarding the Pizzadelia. See, what makes it so special are several things. One, the owner/manager/chef is Manolis who's a Canadian Greek (he lived for many years in Montreal) with a great ethic about life. He prides himself on the fact that the food is organic [you can also have gluten-free if you like] and wherever possible locally grown. His is one of a very few establishments that promotes Cycladian beers. There are several beers on the drinks list that are produced in local breweries on Greek islands and the house wine is Naxian too, not simply from a carton bought from the local supermarket and poured into jugs for the punters. Go on, tell me you didn't think that happens widely.

Something that also scores him points heavily is the fact that he has impeccable taste in music. Two years ago I thought he'd nicked my entire music collection since most of what he was playing was in it. I did also learn a few new artistes to watch out for though, but inevitably when he had time to converse we found there was a meeting of minds on the subject, which was why I was pleased to be able to proffer him a "stick" this time around wth some stuff on it for him to upload and give a listen to when he has time. Usually we're a bit old fashioned and we like to hear some scratchy old "laika" or "rembetiko" playing as we eat, but since Pizzadelia is a contemporary place (impeccably decorated with lots of up-cycling by the way. Kirstie Allsop would give him an award, I mean - he even has bicycle wheels for lampshades - it does work, trust me!) the choice of music is spot on. It's usually AOR rock, nothing too frantic, plus a bit of blues, jazz and so on.

Of course, all the foregoing would be pretty pointless if the food didn't taste so good. But - and here I go, using superlatives again - it's the best Italian food (with a slightly Greek twist anyway) we've ever tasted. In fact, while we were in there the other night a very personable Aussie fella named Joe came in and ordered a takeaway. We happened to bump into him and his wife Leanne on the harbour a day or two later and they both agreed that the pizza was simply amazing. Leanne hadn't even seen the place when her hubby brought the pizza home, but she couldn't help but rave (as we do of course) about how good it was. Incidentally, as is often the case with folk from down under, they're spending the entire summer "doing" Europe and Leanne plans to document their trip on her Facebook page. I would be remiss not to refer to the avocado salad here too. You must order it if you go, I insist!

Something else that recommends Manoli to us too is the fact that two years on he still has the same small, but dedicated crew around him. He has Violetta in the kitchen and Stelios waiting at tables and zipping off into the night regularly on his moped doing deliveries. This fact alone suggests that he's a damn good bloke to work for, since these guys aren't family. They seem pretty contented working at Pizzadelia to us.

Frankly, it would be very tempting to eat at Pizzadelia every single night. The reason we don't is that it's such a shame not to enjoy some different environments. Variety is the spice and all that. It's still difficult though, walking past the place! Plus when all is said and done the other establishments I've referred to are very good too.

Bottom line? If you're ever on Naxos you'd be crazy not to go eat at Pizzadelia. If you ever do, tell Manoli that John and Maria sent you.

The view out from inside

That's the man himself on the left. My better half is talking to Violetta. Note the bicycle-wheel lampshades!

A freebie dessert (of course). Something chocolatty, must ask him for it next time we go. It's delish (as expected).

Stelios did the honours.

Oh, and nearly forgot. The cuckoo clock in Metaxi Mas. Vasili the owner/waiter brought it back from Germany himself. I asked him! See previous post.


  1. John, Nice post. . . it made me hungry! It's breakfast time here and I'm thinking of pizza! LOL!
    I also wonder how the Italian soldiers felt "occupying" a place so similar to their home. I know my father, an Italian in the U.S. during WWII, always said he was grateful not to have been sent to fight in Europe (he fought in Asia) because his whole extended family was on the other side. War. . . [heavy sign]

    1. We're often reminded that there were of course abuses of power by the Italians, but by and large the soldiers really wanted to eat pasta and sing opera most of the time. There's a lovely scene in "Captain Corelli" which is based on fact, where the Italians try to get the local Greeks to join them for a cultural evening of music and pasta in the main square. But generally Linda, how full of meaning is your final word, which I'm sure should be "sigh" - right?

    2. Haha! Yes, thanks John for that very diplomatic spelling correction : )