While kafeneio literally means “coffee shop” in Greek, the word is often used for establishments which offer much more than a jolt of caffeine, whereas straight-up coffee shops are nowadays referred to as “cafes.”
Back in the old days and in smaller towns and villages, the kafeneio was the men’s local meeting and eating place, where they would exchange ideas about politics and life, play backgammon and cards or just hang out.
That bygone concept is what Giorgos, the owner of Stoa tou Agathona, had in mind when he opened up shop in the heart of the commercial triangle in Athens, just a stone’s throw away from bustling St. Irene Square and Eolou Street. Giorgos is a typical example of what happened to people after the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010. Many who became unemployed either had to reinvent themselves or leave the country. Giorgos belongs to the former group: having lost his job at Skaramangas shipyards and being lucky enough to own the space where Stoa tou Agathona is situated, he started the kafeneio with his sister, Varvara, so that he could have a fresh start.
“I started this place with the customer in mind, as, up until that moment, I had always been a customer myself,” he told us. “I wanted to create a local meeting point with a friendly atmosphere and a few fresh bits and bites.”
Initially the menu was very small, but it slowly grew to accommodate demand. The main focus is meat, grilled or fried, but one can also find a variety of simple salads, meze (tzatziki, saganaki cheese, etc.) and fries. There might be a stew or dish of the day, and one can also make special requests a few days in advance for parties. Beer, wine and raki are served extra cold, and there are also the usual refreshments, such as coke and orange juice for those (few) who don’t drink.
The specialty here is kontosouvli, marinated chunks of pork that are slowly cooked on a spit over a coal fire until meltingly tender. Agathona’s version, however, is unusual because it’s made to order. Despite that, the meat was very succulent, and the portion was big enough for two. Of similar size and equally tasty was the tigania, pieces of pork gently sautéed with peppers, oregano and white wine. The meatballs are also exceptional, fragrant and tender, as is the simple, crunchy salad. And in contrast to the bland ready-made stuff one finds in many tavernas these days, Agathona’s tirokafteri, the classic spicy feta spread, is homemade and fiery.
Giorgos strongly believes in using the freshest ingredients and never buys produce to last for more than a few days at a time. “I know everyone who comes here personally, so I cannot give them second-rate food just to make a few extra euros. That’s why I don’t overstock, I don’t have a microwave or freeze the meat. We also cut the salads to order so that they retain their crunch and don’t lose their nutrients.”
Prices are very friendly, with the bill not exceeding €15 per person (with drinks). When the weather is warm one can also enjoy the covered seating in the stoa.
As the place slowly filled up on a recent visit, we noticed how unreservedly customers served themselves beers from the fridge or helped themselves to extra bread. “I want people to feel at home here,” laughed Giorgos and ran out to greet a friend who was passing by.