Pies, sweet and savory, constitute a massive chapter of traditional Greek cuisine, and are also a timeless popular street food all across the nation. Most classic Greek pie shops tend to open early in the morning, as pies are popular for breakfast, and close in the afternoon, usually after they have sold out for the day.
That’s why Ta Stachia, a small shop in Exarchia, stands out – an after-hours pie shop, it runs steadily throughout the night, not only feeding all the pub crawlers and nighthawks, but also staying open until about noon for the early birds who walk their dogs or set off for work or school.
The owner, Elias Papatheodorou, grew up in Metaxourgio, a working-class downtown Athens neighborhood. Both of his parents came from Arcadia, a beautiful mountainous region in northwest Peloponnese in the south of Greece, where Elias spent his vacations with his grandparents who lived there. Elias speaks fondly of his grandmother, Stamatia, an expert on traditional pies who taught him all her culinary secrets and the art of filo-making.
As a student during the early 1990s, Elias spent most of his days in Exarchia, where he went to college and worked part-time jobs, mostly at bars. Exarchia was always a kind of students’ neighborhood, with several universities and colleges located in the area and lots of bars and eateries, but at the same time an area with a highly political profile, where a handful of liberals, anarchists and bohemians chose to live or go out.
In 1997, Elias found a small vacant shop on Spyridonos Trikoupi street, on a backstreet that connects Alexandras Avenue with the Exarchia central square. Impulsively, he decided to rent it and open a pie shop with recipes he had inherited from his granny. He named it Ta Stachia, which means “The Straws” (the stalks of a cereal plant). His idea was to stay open all night and feed all the night owls, including the taxi drivers, something fresh, healthy and comforting – a far cry from other greasy after-hours options.
In fact, Elias’s pies ended up being so good that they were the sole reason the taxi stand relocated outside his store. This happened gradually; it was initially located a couple of blocks away, but within three years after opening Ta Stachia, the fleet gradually moved right outside his shop. In the early years, the pies were prepared on the spot by Panorea, a beloved employee who sadly passed away a few years ago. After she passed away, Elias made a deal with a small artisanal workshop in Chalkida, on Euboea island, near Athens. He gave them the recipes and they now prepare the pies for him daily.
On the doorstep of Ta Stachia is a small window case filled with piles of different kinds of wonderful square-cut pies. We particularly love the ones made with choriatiko filo (choriatiko meaning “village-style”), a crispy olive oil filo dough that is slightly thicker than the frozen filo kroustas that you can most commonly source outside of Greece. The choriatiko pies are naturally vegan here: there’s a pie with red peppers and sesame seeds, a pie with mushrooms, a zucchini pie with fresh mint, a spinach pie, a potato pie with black olives…all of which are made with just filo, olive oil and fresh veggies. There are also vegetarian pies with cheese such as the Mediterranean cheese pie with tomatoes, a classic feta cheese, a kefalotyri cheese pie made with a hard salty cheese similar to pecorino, and a sweet bougatsa pie with a creamy milk custard and cinnamon. For the very hungry (or the hungover), Elias serves a rich chicken or a bacon-and-cheese pie wrapped in a bread-like sourdough that will definitely comfort, settle and fill up any demanding stomach – just ask the crowds who line up at 4 a.m. to order!
But it’s not just the tasty pies that attract people like bees to this place – it is Elias himself, who has been at the shop every day for the past 26 years. Elias, now in his early fifties, has the heart and the smile of a child; funny, chatty, lively (even during the difficult late hours), proud of his pies and with lots of stories to share with his customers. With a few exceptions, most of Elias’s clients are regulars: people who live on the street or in the area, the taxi drivers, food delivery guys on bikes who stop to have a bite and rest, old, young, anarchists, hippies, professionals, you see it all! He knows everyone by name – he even knows their dogs’ names – and of course, everyone knows him. “Here is where all the people who work during the late hours in Exarchia gather at night,” Elias says with pride.
Apart from the pies here you will find a variety of traditional cookies known as koulourakia, traditional ring-shaped crostini made with different grains and seeds, and traditional sourdough breads baked in a wood-burning oven (available only for preorder). A couple of tables and a bench outside Ta Stachia are inviting enough for people to rest for a few minutes, enjoy their pie in peace or talk about politics and catch up with Elias, who will definitely find the chance to mention that the zucchini in the pie are sourced from the farmers market, the mint is fresh and so is the spinach, and the olive oil he uses is top quality. He will urge you to try everything, and not to sell more pies – it’s because he honestly wants you to taste it all. So even if you only order one pie, come prepared to try another when he offers. On Sundays and Mondays he rests all day, charging up his batteries for the long work hours to follow – for at least another 26 years, we hope.
Published on May 17, 2023