Hidden behind the imposing stadium of the Panathinaikos football team – the green team as opposed to its eternal rival, Olympiakos, the red team – lies a tiny eatery that recalls Athens before the 1960s, when urban sprawl destroyed everything.
Occupying two adjacent whitewashed houses, Oinomagereion to Trifylli, named after the team’s clover logo, has been serving simple, delicious food to loyal customers for the last 60 years.
The taverna was founded in 1962 by Kyria (Mrs.) Koula, the present owner’s mother, in order to earn additional income for her family. The initial menu is still more or less the same, and Kyrios (Mr.) Giorgos, her son, told us that they follow her recipes to a T: these include fried meatballs, the house specialty, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves in the summer or cabbage leaves in the winter), Greek salad, fries, fried lamb’s liver and battered salt cod. “Everyone comes here for the food they know and love,” he says, “so there is no reason to change anything.”
Despite the maternal feel of the food, cooking and serving is nowadays done by men, all relatives either by blood or by marriage. Tables are covered with vintage-style oilcloth, and in hotter months most people prefer to sit in the outside area, which used to be Kyrios Giorgos’s own courtyard (his house is actually next door).
Doors open at 8:30 p.m., and by 9 p.m., even on weekdays, the place is full. We were expecting to see more of a football crowd, but were pleasantly surprised by the wide ranging clientele: students, locals, families and, of course, the occasional celebrity, all come here to enjoy the fresh, homey food.
Portions are relatively small, but since prices are so good, there’s no reason to complain. We really loved the stuffed cabbage leaves – perhaps some of the best we have tried – and the salt cod was excellent too. One can also order it plain, or with skordalia, the traditional garlic sauce, on the side. The salad was fresh and the meatballs crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The fries were a bit more oily than we would have liked, but it’s hard to complain when everything else was so well made.
Trifylli is one of the few tavernas that still makes its own wine, and its large wooden barrels hold a place of honor in the main restaurant area. Served in the traditional red tin carafe, the wine is exactly what one would expect from a Greek house wine: resinous, uncomplicated and easy to drink. There is also beer and soda available (but, alas, no tsipouro or ouzo).
When we asked for the bill, Kyrios Giorgos came swiftly and wrote everything on the paper cloth. We paid 12 euros per person and left with a light heart, but not an empty pocket.