new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Hellas Restaurant: Tarpon Springs Greek Food, No Tacky Souvenirs Included

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hellas Restaurant: Tarpon Springs Greek Food, No Tacky Souvenirs Included

Hellas Restaurant 785 Dodecanese Blvd Tarpon Springs, FL 34689 (727) 934-8400

Hellas is one of the few jillion tourist-oriented Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Why all the Greek restaurants in this little Florida hamlet, you ask? Well,n not surprisingly, Tarpon Springs is full of Greeks, who came to the little village to sponge-fish and never really left. I've been going there roughly since birth - I have vivid memories of hoovering down giant plates of fried calamari and smelts when I was five or so, to the great pleasure of nearby snowbird grannies. The giant fake great white in the shopping area, the little aquarium with the sting-ray touch tank, the sponge museum with the gory DIVER DYING FROM THE BENDS, it's all coded in my DNA, right down to the tacky-ass souvenir shops and the constantly playing, insanity-inducing sound of Greek pop music. I refuse to hear anything against Tarpon Springs. And you know you actually secretly want a freeze-dried gator head wearing sunglasses. Just admit it, for God's sake.

Hellas has a large bakery with a profusion of Greek style baked goods - think every kind of Baklava known to man - and strong, gritty Turkish coffee that could probably kill you from sheer potency. The adjoining restaurant is pretty good, and has a sort of entirely authentic character that can't really be replicated. You got your waitresses with cigarette smoker voices, you got the dining room full of people in tank tops and pink hats with flamingos on them, you got the guys shouting OPAAAA when they flame up a plate of Saganaki. I love that shit.

This is it: Tampa style Greek salad. You got your Greek salad, you got your potato salad with it, buried beneath a mantle of leafy greens.. Shut up and go with it. The combination somehow manages to be delightful, as the potato salad melds with the herbaceous Greek dressing to take on an oily, incredibly bad for you flavor. The salads at Hellas are insanely huge - this was the salad for one. The salad for five probably generates its own garlicky gravitational field. As local-style Greek salads go, it's pretty good, though ask them to go easy on the dressing.

I chose the grouper special, with Greek style tomato sauce, rice, and potatoes. I adore grouper, especially because it's as rare as unicorns outside Florida, and this was pretty good. The flavorful tomato sauce has plenty of oregano and lemon, and is a worthy accompaniment to seafood. Only gripe? Could have been hotter. Not hot enough food is a big no-no. The piece of fish was caveman sized, which is nice to see. Potatoes and rice pilaf were good enough as side-line carbs go. The bread here is crusty and light, if you're into pre-eating bread.

Also: that fish plate? That fish plate. That fish plate is amazing. I didn't even notice that pinnacle of awesome until I loaded the photo onto my computer. I need 200 of them.

My dad chose pan fried smelts and calamari. Smelts are kind of an acquired taste. They're nothing more then deep fried whole entire little oily fish, complete with bones. (They do lop the heads off). The flavor is unctuous and rather pleasing in a marine way, although I find that I'm perfectly satisfied after eating about three of them.

The calamari was pretty good, if non-descript. Again, not quite hot enough.

We declined a slice of baklava cheesecake larger then our collective heads, and stepped out again onto the street. Incredibly, it was a cold day - 60 degrees, cold enough to cause a native Floridian to run screaming towards a heater, and I am a native Floridian. We bought some lovely goats-milk soap then hustled to the car. I had satisfied my grouper consumption requirement for a trip to Florida. I wish I had bought a freeze-dried baby alligator reclining in a lounge chair, but there will be a next time.


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