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Piraeus has long been a city on the go: ever since antiquity, it has served as the main port of Athens. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city was an important industrial center as well, and today it remains one of the most significant ports in the Mediterranean, connecting Europe with commercial capitals across the globe.

Outside of their sheer size and abundant activity, the docks aren’t much to look at. But Piraeus is large and full of beautiful pockets, if you know where to look. The city’s most precious gem is undoubtedly the neighborhood of Kastella, which consists of the area around the picturesque Mikrolimano Bay and the hill rising up above it.

The panoramic view from the hill, especially on sunny days, encapsulates pure Greek beauty: little white sails scattered on the clear blue water of the Argosaronic Gulf. It’s an ideal location for a taverna, or at least Paraschos Manioudakis thought so.

Back in the mid-1930s, Paraschos left his village on the island of Crete to find better work in the capital. He arrived in Piraeus and soon found a job as a dockworker. In 1940, he went back to Crete, got married to his wife, Georgia, and had a son, Nikolas. But he had to return to his job in Piraeus, leaving his wife and son behind in Crete.

Life was tough for the working class back then, and Paraschos took on a second job to supplement his income. In a small space in Kastella (now part of a bowling alley) he opened a traditional kafeneio, a venue where locals gathered to enjoy their coffee, followed by a glass of ouzo or wine paired with few meze dishes, a dozen sets of backgammon and chess, and endless conversation.

Not long after, Georgia and Nikolas arrived in Piraeus by fishing boat, a common way to travel at the time. Georgia took over the kitchen, increasing the number of meze dishes on offer and elevating them as well – she was a skilled cook, attracting more customers to the kafeneio.

As a result, Paraschos decided to expand. In 1957, he was lucky enough to find a space further up the hill in Kastella. This beautiful spot, with a panoramic view of Piraeus and the sea (probably the best in the whole area) and an Oscar-winning balcony that looks as if it’s hanging over the picturesque Mikrolimano Bay, is where he opened his taverna, which was appropriately named Panorama. The taverna was popular from the start, and its beautiful balcony and enchanting view were featured in several 1960s films, including The Burglars (1971), as well as in plenty of classic Greek films of the time.

The panoramic view from the hill, especially on sunny days, encapsulates pure Greek beauty.

Paraschos eventually turned over the taverna to Nikolas, who ran Panorama until about 2008, when it was his turn to retire to his village on Crete, leaving his son, also named Paraschos, to take over the business. A genuinely kind, humble character, Paraschos knows the taverna, where he was practically raised, and this particular part of the town, as well as anyone can.

His first order of business was renovating the taverna, transforming it into more of a “proper” restaurant. But the menu stayed the same: fresh and simple fish, seafood and salad, which is no surprise given Panorama’s proximity to the sea.

You can almost always find Dimitris, Paraschos’ brother-in-law, by his side – the two are close and run the restaurant together, taking extra good care of their customers, most of whom are regulars. They are both incredibly knowledgeable about fish and seafood, and are particularly passionate about maintaining marine life. “Fish should be eaten when it is the right season to eat them. The laws can be a bit loose on that, but customers should be conscious of the seasonality of the seafood and respect it, and they must become more aware of the illegal fishing methods some people use,” Dimitris said.

On a recent visit, we started our meal with a beautiful fresh salad of boiled broccoli, stamnagathi (Cretan wild greens) and zucchini, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and plenty of freshly squeezed lemon juice. As a precursor to our seafood feast, we also ordered a bowl of kakavia, the traditional fisherman’s soup that they’re famous for.

Next up was fried fresh calamari and symiaki garida (a type of small shrimp very popular in Greece due to its sweet flavor) – both were crispy on the outside, and juicy and full of flavor on the inside, just as they should be. The shrimp was so fresh that they insisted we try it raw – as the fishermen like to eat it. We’re so glad that they did because it was a rare delight, so to speak. Then came the larger shrimp, which were also delicious, lightly steamed and dressed with an olive oil-based mustard and caper sauce.

And then the star of the show arrived, a perfectly grilled one-kilo grouper, which we had picked out from a fridge in the sparkling clean kitchen brimming with top-notch fish, all in season and sustainably caught. We paired the fish with a couple of bottles of ouzo, Greek seafood’s ideal mate.

We ended with a handmade kataifi dessert topped with mastiha ice cream – also handmade – and a sprinkle of chopped pistachio nuts. More importantly, we finished the meal with our hosts as friends and a plan to return often.

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Anastasia Adamaki

Published on February 25, 2019

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