Greece has a fantastic tradition of pie-making. Most Greeks have memories of their granny making some sort of pie in a big pan for the family to share. Savory pies are sold in individual portions in bakeries (which are everywhere in Athens) and sandwich shops, or even whole and frozen in supermarket freezers, much like pizza is sold in the U.S.
The Greek word for pie is pita (πίτα, not to be confused with pita bread). Usually an extra word is added in front of pita, so you get tyropita (τυρόπιτα), or cheese-pie; spanakopita (σπανακόπιτα), or spinach pie; and so forth. These two, along with bougatsa (a sweet pie with a light cream filling that is topped with powdered sugar) and loukanikopita (a whole sausage baked in phyllo pastry), are the most common pies in your average bakery. Phyllo dough (phyllo is φύλλο in Greek, meaning “leaf” ) is very popular, although there are some pies made with a less flaky dough.
Tucked into the extremely busy Voulis Street right behind Syntagma Square, Ariston, which means “excellent” in Greek, is the place to go for pies of all varieties. This shop has been in the same spot since 1910 and is still owned by the family that opened it, the Lobotesis family. There are at least four people working here at all times to cope with the ever-changing crowd of Athenians walking in and out of the store. From professionals working in the area, students and retired grandparents wearing old-fashioned hats to mothers pushing strollers and tired shoppers taking a break from busy Ermou Street, everyone comes to Ariston.
Customers usually head for the store’s specialty – kourou pies – which are placed inside a large, rectangular, glass incubator like precious babies. There is usually a whole mountain of these small pies shaped like half-moons, which are made with a solid, pastry-like dough with a feta filling and have an almost yellow glow. Kourou phyllo usually contains yogurt and butter and this is unmistakably reflected in the taste. The butter-rich dough and the hearty dose of feta make for a heavy, salty pastry that crumbles in the mouth and is the equivalent of a full meal. Ariston is not the only place in Athens that makes kourou pies but it is definitely one of the best.
For those who prefer something a bit more unusual and sophisticated, there is a dizzying variety of at least 15 different pies on offer here every day. These are displayed in large metallic pans behind a glass partition, with a small white label (in both Greek and English) explaining the ingredients. Unlike the kourou pies, these pies are served in rectangular pieces. Their tastiness comes from the very hearty fillings, which have an almost porridge-like, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Ariston’s pies include feta and leek, feta and zucchini, mushroom, sweet peppers from the area of Florina in Northern Greece, and even a “farmer’s pie,” which is chock-full of different vegetables. Our personal favorite is the bacon, pepper and cheese filling; the meat flavor is greatly complemented by the pepper and the cheese, resulting in an almost pizza-like taste. If you decide to do takeaway they will wrap your pies up in a pink cardboard box with Ariston’s old-fashioned logo on it. It is a logo that has stayed dear to the heart of many generations of Athenians.