Growing up in Athens in the 1980s and 90s, weekend family excursions to a suburban taverna were an integral part of life. Back then, prices were affordable and eating out was not a luxury; in fact, it was a social necessity. It was a way to catch up with friends, enjoy good food and good wine, but also to entertain the kids.
These tavernas were often away from the city center, in areas that offered a break from the gray buildings and the heat – usually with a large outdoor area shaded by trees, encompassing a playground and sometimes even a pond with small boats to enterain the kids. The food on offer was basic, but delicious – mainly meat (grilled lamb chops, etc.), salads, fried vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, potatoes) and dips (tzatziki and tyrokafteri, a spicy feta spread). Many suburban towns had their own claims to fame – in Drossia, peinirli was the delicacy bringing in the crowds, but further away in Stamata, it was always about the meat.
Times have changed and many of our favorite childhood places have closed, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Even more, tastes have evolved and the restaurant scene in Athens is vibrant, with new spots sprouting up every month waiting to be savored. There is, however, something nostalgic about those countryside taverns, a certain charm that still permeates those places that have managed to keep their standards high, despite the difficulties. And although it is no longer routine weekly entertainment, a trip to a tavern for some delectable lamb chops still makes its way onto our calendars in the summertime.
One such favorite that has stood the test of time is Agroktima Regoukou (Regoukou Farm) in Amygdaleza, a small neighborhood in Stamata, on the outskirts of Athens. For decades now, the taverna has been offering something truly exceptional: authentic farm-to-table dining. We used to go there to avoid the crowds in Stamata, but it was also a convenient stop when returning from a swim at the nearby Marathonas or Shinias beaches. Stamata is a small community nestled in the forested area under Pentelikon mountain. It is not as far as one might expect, but its square – with the white church and taverns – has such a rural feel that one forgets it is a mere 28 kilometers from downtown Athens’ Syntagma Square and 9 kilometers from Kifissia center. Another 3 kilometers further, via a wonderful tree-lined and leafy route, lies Regoukou Farm.
Crowds of loyal customers aren’t flocking to Regoukou for its décor or ambiance. It is the excellent, unpretentious food that has been attracting generations of diners, especially on the weekends.
Established about 50 years ago by Aggeliki and Petros Regoukou, the grandparents of the current generation of managers, the taverna was a pig farm that gradually started serving snacks – until it evolved into what it is now around the end of the 1980s. Asimina, the sweet granddaughter of Petros and Aggeliki, is one of three kids who make up the heart and soul of the restaurant. “We are a true family business,” she tells us with a big grin. “Our grandparents are still alive and try to come in as much as they can, but it is the rest of the family who now runs things. My mother, Natasha, does all the cooking, following grandma’s recipes to the ‘T.’ My brother, Petros, does all the grilling and my other brother, Giannis, helps with the service. My uncle Kostas and grandpa tend the farm and do the beekeeping. But our father, Panagiotis, who worked for years in the taverna, is now a professional fisherman!”
We ask her if any one of them (minus Panagiotis) ever thought about doing something else with their lives, especially since all of them went to study other disciplines. “We love the taverna so much. It is our home, our life. Working here was a conscious choice,” she says.
The farm has a long family history for sure, but customers have a long relationship with Regoukou as well. As we talk and the restaurant starts to fill up, Asimina gets up and greets each new guest like friends. The outdoor area is simple, dotted with plastic chairs and tables, but a lovely overhanging grapevine provides a cool, thick shade perfect for those scorching summer days. But these crowds of loyal customers aren’t flocking to Regoukou for its décor or ambiance. It is the excellent, unpretentious food that has been attracting generations of diners, especially on the weekends. (If you are planning to visit Regoukou on a weekend, make sure to book a table and be prepared for some delays in service.)
Most vegetables, mainly in the summer months, come from the adjacent farm: zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, greens, potatoes. Regoukou also has its own animals, including rabbits and hens (which provide eggs for the pies), and all the other meat comes from a well-known meat vendor in the area, Magginas. Members of the Magginas family have been sheep and goat herders on the Pentelikon mountain for centuries and they are justly famous for their meat and dairy products.
The most-beloved dish at Regoukou, which should come as no surprise, is the grilled lamb chops. But it would be a pity to leave the premises without trying one of their other warm dishes as well. Goat and rabbit are stewed with oregano and onions in the summer, but in the winter you’ll find a rabbit stifado of tomato and onions, or a frikasse with lettuce and an egg-lemon sauce. All are exceptional, as is the cheese pie, which is prepared on the spot with homemade phyllo. All their dips are also made on-site, and the fried meatballs are state of the art. The boiled greens and zucchini are sweet and tender, a perfect accompaniment to all the meat. If you’re dining in the winter, you might get lucky and be able to try the moussaka or stuffed cabbage leaves, but they are not always on the menu. Another winter delight is the semolina halva. “But it is too heavy for summer,” Asimina says. At the end of our mid-July meal, a large plate of juicy watermelon came our way instead. We didn’t complain.