On our first morning in Nicosia we sat down at a sunlit outdoor table in a picturesque cafe and asked the waiter what Cypriots ate for breakfast.
“Pies,” he said, and brought us a selection of savory ones stuffed with olives, cheese and spinach. They came straight from the microwave – grayish-beige, overheated and sodden – and tasted like greasy cardboard.
It wasn’t until we discovered Apomero that we realized it didn’t have to be that way.
Hidden down a shaded side street in the gentrifying part of the old town, this tiny cafe and pie shop with its small indoor space and jumble of tables and potted plants outside has a much more relaxed feel than its stuffier neighbors and is the sort of place to spend the whole morning over coffee and pastries.
Its owner, Androula Tsianakka, is 72 but has the energy of someone half that age. She worked in patisseries and cafes in Nicosia until she retired at 65, but she had always wanted to set up a family business. With the help of her children and grandchildren she renovated an old house just around the corner from her family home and opened up 18 months ago.
Tsianakka gets up at 4 a.m. every day to bake fresh pies and cakes, grabs a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon and stays open until late into the evening, when she starts serving wine and zhivania – the local strong pomace brandy – along with the coffee and cakes.
“I wanted to help my family, and this was a good way to bring them all together,” said Tsianakka, rushing from kitchen to table while her 24-year-old grandson, Nicolas, took orders.
It’s almost impossible to choose among the baked goods at Apomera, so the best approach is to try a bit of everything.
The eliopita – olive pie – is a roulade of light, sesame-flecked pastry filled with chunks of olive, onion and herbs, a world away from the overworked purée that a lot of bakeries sell.
Spanakopita is a perfectly-seasoned mix of spinach and feta inside fine shortcrust pastry rather that the traditional filo. Tiropita, or cheese pie, uses the same casing filled with a fluffy mix of soft white cheeses cut with a hint of mint. Both look substantial on the plate, but the pastry is so well made that they aren’t at all heavy.
The galaktoboureko and baklava are crisp and sweet without being cloying, but pride of place among the sweet options goes to the portokalopita – a wonderfully textured polenta cake doused in sweet and sharp orange syrup whose recipe Tsianakka came up with along with her daughter.
Everything is served on small curlicued glass plates with little three-tined pastry forks, giving the whole experience an elegant, old-fashioned air that’s a welcome change from the brunches being served in other cafes in the city. Along with strong coffee, you can drink herbal tea made from various blends of mountain herbs, homemade lemonade or freshly squeezed orange juice.
Word in Nicosia is spreading about this spot – it’s almost always busy now, and you have to get there early to get a slice of orange cake before it runs out – but Tsianakka is showing no signs of slowing down.
“She wanted to do this for a long time, and she’s the brains behind everything,” said Nicolas.