Saturday, 30 April 2011

New York Sandwiches: Points for Trying.

Last Saturday started well. The usual call at elevenish for a morning coffee to get the day rolling. I sent a text informing another friend that I was going for coffee and headed to the center. We usually meet up at a little place called "Skoufa Bistro" in Kolonaki, which has very good waffles and very decent coffee.

By the time I arrived I had a reply: "Have a great day (I know it won't only be a coffee)!". In retrospect, I think I was the only person under the impression that all I was going for was coffee. As soon as we sat down, the drilling began. Where were you on Wednesday (we usually meet up on Wednesdays to try new places and have a quiet mid-week break), why didn't you came? And a whole lot more which I will not replay. However, it all came together at the end: "This is your chance to redeem yourself, we're going to New York Sandwiches for lunch after the coffee".

View New York Sandwiches in a larger map

I remembered watching about a sandwiches place on TV not too long ago and wondered if this was the place. I remembered the hugeness of the sandwiches. They made a comment on the show about the cost, but it wasn't really clear if they were saying that it was good value or not. The bottom line was that you get "a meal in between two peaces of bread".

After some cross referencing and checking, (AthinoramaFacebook, Food and the City) it turned out that not only was this the place on the show, but the guy behind the place was affiliated with guy from show. Both being involved with another restaurant ("Aneton"). "A bit of conflict of interest", I thought to myself, "Honer a friendship or uphold the credibility of the show?". It would be convenient if one could do both but unfortunately this would not be the case!

Eventually we arrived. It was really easy to find too: right next to Athens Tower.

The Entrance

You can just make out the communal table that makes up the seating. I was actually surprised at this, mainly because I remembered that the likes of Wagamamas had ditched communal seating for their Athens restaurant. I had always imagined it a result of the market not being accepting of it.

Map of New York Subway

Iconic New York Images in the Wall

Great effort put into creating a New York feel. I've never been so I couldn't really say if they've done a good job of it, but as far as a place to go in Athens I wasn't really enthusiastic.

The Counter and Kitchen Half of the Place

This is where we ordered almost everything on the menu: The Pastrami Sandwich, the Turkey Sandwich, The Meatballs Sandwich and the Veal Sandwich and a Salmon Bagel.

The Pastrami Sandwich

I'm pretty sure the mustard was French's mustard, but even if it wasn't it tasted like it. I couldn't really say about the quality of the pastrami, but there was a satisfying amount of it! Fresh bread, and lots of that too! €6.95.

The Turkey Sandwich

Hearty, deep filled turkey sandwich. Nothing special, but nothing wrong with it. Not much more to say... other than €5.95.

The Meatball Sandwich

The Veal Sandwich

I loved the bread of both the veal and the meatball sandwich. I couldn't help but imagine it as a huge burger! Other than that, both the veal and the meatball sandwich tasted the same and that was because everything else was almost the same about them. Loads of sauce that just about covered the taste of everything else, canned mushrooms and roasted red peppers (from a jar as far as I'm concerned). The texture was slightly different: soft meatball verses slab of meat. The bread was soggy from the sauce; by design of course; but it might as well have been a cotton field on a rainy day! There were two pieces of veal; more surface area for the fried breadcrumbs to gift us with their taste and crunch; covered and saturated in the sauce too. €6.95.

The Salmon Bagel. 

I dunno how they do salmon bagels in the States, but in the UK, in the Student Union shop, we used to have roast beef and onion sandwich.The strong tasting beefiness was well complemented by the pungent onion.  And I absolutely loved their crunchiness. Now how delicate taste of smoked salmon can be paired with onion is beyond me - the texture sure - that was my thought before biting into the sandwich. Turns out the onion taste wasn't the overpowering one (maybe the onions had been boiled before (they didn't seem sautéed but weren't as crunchy - maybe they too were out of a jar?)), but the capers in the cream cheese were. The bagel was perfectly crisp. €4.95.

I felt that quality of the ingredients was low; my friend said it was in character. At five, six, and mainly seven Euro, my first though is that it was expensive. Maybe novelty value. There was nothing remotely special about any of the sandwiches that would prevent me from easily and accurately reproducing them at home for about a fifth of the cost. On the other hand, a baguette can go for around three Euro and only usually has a measly slice of ham in it. We had two sandwiches each. I felt like a I'd had a meal. No more, no less. So what would one sandwich have been? An expensive snack? Quality and price aside, the taste too was nothing great. I couldn't really taste the meat over the sauce and the acidity of the canned vegetables.

I would recommend going for the novelty value, but it's not even in a central location; maybe if you're passing by or if you work near by. To be honest, I think that's really what their target group is: yuppies working in Athens Tower that will embrace anything non-Greek for the sake of it. Good effort, novel, but not quite what it could be. For other: perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Coupepe: Perfect if you're in the neighbourhood.

When I was little, my grandfather used to take me to the barber to get my hair cut. I have so many sparse memories of the time. Like pictures, emptied out of a shoebox onto the table. Just there, in no particular order, some out of focus, but definitely there. I remember that the barber wasn't in the neighbourhood, and I imagine that this was because he was in an area where my grandfather had lived earlier in his life, and that the barber was one that he had been going to for a long time.

After my grandfather passed away, my dad took over, taking me to the barber that he had been going to for, as I understand it, all his life. I don't think it's a coincidence that both men had such a long lasting bond with they barbers. Somehow, I believe this stems from the personal nature of a hair cut. Even more so with a shave as would have been more often the case in both their times. I think it was this personal facet that put me off hair cuts both as a child and later on.

Eventually, as I grew older, the time came for me to take the matter of my hair into my own hands. The results of this were devastating both for me and for the people around me. All through university I wouldn't get my hair cut for months on end. This ordeal reached a peak after I had completed my national service when I had left my hair to grow for more than a year (something that I'm honestly not proud of ). Luckily a friend of mine took the matter into her own hands and arranged an appointment with her hairdresser to get my hair cut. I've been going with her ever since.

Friday was one of those days, and after the vile and intrusive grooming business I had to get some comfort food to make it all better. However, to convince my friend to follow through with me I had to promise her a good salad: not really the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of comfort food. Lo and behold, 'Coupepe' to the rescue, with wholesome salads and pizza to die for!

Show Coupepe on larger map

A little bit of background first. Coupepe is located on the main square of Nea Penteli - which is really, more or less, as far out of Athens as you can go and still say you live in Athens (technically of course, it's a suburb - yea, shoot me for not naming my blog 'On Attica'). It basically has a good collection of cold cuts of meat and cheeses which it uses to make salads, sandwiches, crepes and pizzas or just serve plain with drinks. A sort of coffee-drinks-and-simply-food place. Very small but with enough outdoor seating on the square. Same owner I believe as Dadas, and the reason I had such high hopes for it (you can read all about that experience here). And here are some related links: facebook, foursquare,,,,

Back to the story. We arrived promptly, parked and went to find a seat. Unfortunately inside was packed, and we were lucky to get a place outside. It's always a good sign when a place is full. It's not necessarily a sign of good food or whatnot. It's a sign of a good balance of quality, quantity, service, environment and price.

My plan was to get a pizza, but I had already promised, in the name of healthy eating, a salad each. I had to get her to drop her guard so I decided to start with some Rakomela and a bruschetta to get her appetite going. We decided on two salads, but as soon as she'd got some alcohol in her, I argued for a pizza instead of the salad. She fell for it! Then, as we ordered, I snuck the second salad back in claiming I couldn't decide between the two. Overall I was well happy with myself, and with my trusted camera with me, here goes:

The Rakolemo. I could have sworn there was a hint of orange in this. Strong stuff! Did the job.

The bruschetta. There were five pieces, but as all things served first, it was eaten before my brain switched from  'man eat food. ouga-ouga' to 'maybe I should take a picture for my blog'.

Rocket, lettuce, bacon, parmigiana, cherry tomatoes... yum-yum.

Cabbage (if I member correctly), radicchio, gorgonzola and walnuts... yum-yum-yum. To be honest, both salads were works of art! They were both so fresh and delicious! My only problem was that I didn't toss them (I couldn't bare to spoil the look), and the dressing which was all over the top, never got to the bottom.

And finally the pizza. Or should I say pi-xxx-a, because it was absolute sex. Thin, crispy and soft, not too much cheese, straight out the oven, melting all over the place. Fresh toppings, juicy tomato, crunchy peppers, earthy mushrooms. I dunno, I'm no pizza expert (and I have suffered a disappointment after saying that something is the best of that something - read that here), but as far as I'm concerned this pizza is the reason why pizza delivery - the likes of domino, pizza hut and pizza fun - should be made illegal: either go out and get it fresh or make it yourself!

Verdict: perfect for what it is, and absolutely worth it if you're in the neighbourhood.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bluefield Burger Company: King of Burger Delivery

"Incoming!!!"... That's the sound my mobile phone makes when a message arrives. The message was to the point: "16:00. Bluefield.". The reply had been sent before I had time to think about it: "OK".

Of course, there wasn't anything to think about! There was no way I was going to let my plans to go to the gym get in the way of beer and a burger. And not just any burger at that. As far as I'm concerned, Bluefield Burger is the best burger delivery company in Athens - its just a shame (and bliss at the same time) that there is only one of it. Other companies may be more well know, and may have the means to cover every end and every suburb of Athens, but when it comes to quality, Bluefield is in a league of its own.

In a nutshell, the story goes that a guy went to New York, learnt all about real burgers, decided to return to Greece and set up the best burger delivery company around. Lights, camera, action; he succeeded. I'm not going to write anything more because it has all been written about before. You can read more about the background of Mr. Bluefield Burgers (a.k.a. Aggelos Katopodis) and Bluefield Burger Company on (yes they have started franchising, so hopefully we'll see more of them soon - and hopefully the quality will remain the same), Athens Voice, Athens News, Athinorama, foodforthought and they have a facebook page!

Obviously, as well as delivery they have a sit-in area (otherwise why would we be going there - doh)! On entering the sit-in dining area, one is welcomed by small cows grazing in green fields of grass. It's really nice that this much attention has been placed on the look and feel of this area of a shop that probably does most of its business delivering its product.

Grazing Cows

The Dining Area

This is about half of the dining area. There are another two tables on the other side. A tiny shop with huge surprises!

We ordered a beer, a Caesar salad, onion rings, Fries with Chilli, Sesame Chicken Wings and Best of the West burgers. 

The salad was different as far as Caesar salads go. Nothing garlicky or anchovy about it. But nothing like the bog standard flat commercial white dressing you get in many average places. There was, however, something in the dressing that I couldn't put my finger on. I hate it when that happens. But it was really nice. Fresh. I was so hungry though, that by the time I thought of taking a photo, it was all gone!


Served in an icy cold glass. What could be more perfect of a sunny spring day!

Onion Rings

I've tried onion rings with flour, onion rings with bread crumbs and these: onion rings in batter. Can't decide what I like best, but these were damn fine onion rings.

Fries and Chilli

Ultimate comfort food. Absolutely delicious! Here of course, as well as with the burgers, fresh chips would have taken the dish to the next level.

Sesame Chicken Wings

Spectacular by any account: Sticky sweet and savoury exterior. Moist insides, tender, meat falls off the bone. Probably one of their best dishes.

Best of the West Burger

There is no such thing as the perfect burger. In the same way that there is no such thing as the perfect pasta or the perfect pizza. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal taste. HOWEVER, there are rules of thumb. 

First of all, look at the burger. Rule of thumb: the burger has to look appetising.

If you look closely at the Best of the West burger, you'll notice a thin layer of white sauce between the bottom half of the bun and the patty. Rule of thumb: add a fat based sauce (e.g. mayonnaise based) or other impermeable layer between bread and other ingredients to avoid bread becoming soggy. 

Notice the abundance of iceberg lettuce on top. It may be tasteless, but it gives texture (e.g. crunch) to the burger. Rule of thumb: add texture. 

Now look at the thickness of the patty. A thinner patty has more surface area to brown for more taste, but the difference between "bloody as hell" and "burnt to a crisp", would be a matter of seconds - and even so, to get the benefit of the larger surface area without overcooking the interior you'd need very high heat. A thick patty can be repeatedly cooked to order with satisfactory browning. Rule of thumb: thick patty. 

Next the bread; the moisture of all the ingredients must be enough to counteract the dryness of the bread. Use a dense bread and you're screwed. Rule of thumb: use a light bread or add allot of moisture. 

Finally the patty. If its dry, you have to add other ingredients to give moisture otherwise, it will be impossible to swallow. However, if you're going to cover the taste of the meat with a whole load of sauces and other stuff, you might as well use a cardboard patty. There are two ways to achieve moisture. One is to use good quality tender lean cuts of meat and cook it medium-rare to medium. You will loose out in taste but the health benefits are obvious. The other way is to use cuts that require more cooking and have more fat. These must be cooked well to allow the fat to melt. This is your traditional American burger. This is burger that The King of Rock and Roll had for breakfast. It has a smoky taste from the burnt fat, and a well textured interior because of the less tender meat used. However, it is also the type of burger that led the King to an early grave! In today's world, most people will find this type of burger less palatable, but at the end of the day its a matter of taste. Rule of thumb: you have to make a conscious decision about the cut of meat and how much fat will be in the burger.

Bluefield burger uses a mix of sirloin and brisket to achieve a very good balance of juiciness, tenderness and texture without the burger being obviously fatty. You can read all about their choices here.

Cookies. On the House.

Finally the cookies. Oh the cookies. I really wish that I'm not wrong in saying that these are absolutely home made using basically flour, butter, sugar and chocolate chips because they are; the dogs bollocks!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Nixon: A story of expectations and how something so right can go so wrong

Two, maybe three weeks ago, I had arranged to go to a short play with colleagues from work staged in the apartment just above our office. The play was called "ΦΑΚ ΛΑΪΦΣΤΑΪΛ" (Fuck Lifestyle) and it was actually very good and I really enjoyed it. Given that it started at 8:30pm and finished at 11:30pm we had time to kill before the show, and time for a drink after it.

Before the show, I was more than happy to visit Gazi College (which I've already praised), to have the mini burgers. After the show on the other hand we weren't sure of where to go. No sooner had we started considering options than we decided to visit a bar restaurant called Nixon. The amazing thing was that, even though Nixon is practically down stairs from our office, none of us had been there before. On my part, I had been meaning to go for the past four year! The reason: rumours of the best burger in town! (Yes, I know, we've heard that before; and I haven't even written about the burger at The James Joyce Pub yet!). Now, I need to emphasise this again: I had really been meaning to try the burger at Nixon for the past four years because it had come to my attention from more than one sources that it may well have the best burger in Athens.

View Nixon in a larger map

Unfortunately we were visiting for the Bar part as opposed to the Restaurant part, and either way the place was already packed and they said we needed a reservation to sit. We settled in the corner behind the door and were thankful at that: to be lucky enough to have found a stool and a bar top to ourselves. I went for the Margarita because I like trying common things in new places because it gives me good grounds for comparing (sort of like the Big-Mac Index). I was very happy that the waiter asked if I wanted my Margarita frozen or shaken and served without the ice: showed they knew how it's supposed to be. It was ok. After Baba au rum, no other mixed drink has been the same for me.

Rewind. While waiting for the drinks to arrive I started looking around at the place. It's actually very nice. It has a tall ceiling with a huge Art Deco chandelier that totally dominates the place, the bar has shelves full of drinks built into the wall, and the restaurant in the back has large leather seating that really suit it. I found a really great description with pictures of the décor here. I also took a few pictures:

The Chandelier

Booths with leather seating

Pictures on the wall

So, as I'm looking around I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, on the bar, waiting to be served, the sexiest looking mini burgers I had ever seen. I had to have them! I told the people I was with if they wanted to share. They refused, reminding me that we had already eaten. They desperately tried to make me reconsider out of what they said was a needless act of unnecessary calorie consumption, ultimately fuelled by an underlying dissatisfaction with my job. A attempt, they said, to fill a gap in my life using the wrong means; something about Freud. I called the waiter and ordered the mini burgers. They had to be mine.

As I waited for my babies, I peered over the DJ in front of us to see a small frame with a picture of Nixon and Elvis Presley. So I made the connection: American President, Elvis Presley and Burgers. I really felt that these burgers were going to be the real deal. And they were. Nothing like the mini Burgers at Gazi College, which aren't really a mini version of a larger burger (tasty none the less), these were truly bite size versions of real burgers. They had an intensely smoky charred taste, juicy and textured patty, crispy bacon, wonderfully right caramelized onions on top. Spot on!

As I'm eating, I look over to the tables, and I see a guy who seems to be having the full size burger. And he just seems to be eating and eating and eating, and I think to myself, 'Daddy burger must be one huge daddy of a burger'. And this is important. A burger isn't some posh gourmet dish. It is a decadent, wholesome, savage meal. Something that you have to eat with your hands, and sauce drips all over the place, and you get into a mess because its almost impossible to sink your teeth into it. You have to feel the weight of the meat when you pick it up to eat. Sure, you can make a patty with kobe beef fillet mince and have black truffles, buffalo mozzarella and rocket, but that is not a burger as far as I'm concerned. That is a sandwich at best! The art of making a burger is making a satisfying hearty meal out of simple cheap ingredients!

Fast forward two weeks into the future, and a lot of nut busting on my part to get my burger eating friends to visit Nixons for a meal with me. It was a Wednesday and we usually meet up around seven, just the boys, to have a quiet weekday drink, a bite to eat and discuss the week so far. We had to wonder around until eight which is what time Nixon opens, at which point we went in and asked for a table for eight. We got two small tables put together. Now, I'm not one to complain, but for eight big men (and I don't mean old), and an empty Nixon, it was pretty obviously cramped. We made a point of this, but were told that this is what they usually give for eight people. Where should I start? Customer service? Customer always being right? Clearly a place named after an American president with a totally Greek view on customers.

We all ordered burgers and had a couple of starters, so here goes:


Tortilla  Cones

Both starters were sort of a joke. To start, we ate them by hand because they had forgotten to bring cutlery. The quesadillas were nice because they were warm and the cheese melted and stuff. Similar to an expensive toasty. The cones were made from a crispy tortilla (imagine the texture of a tortilla left out to dry for a week), They were filled with a red pepper and cream cheese dip and they had a piece of chorizo sticking out. Now unless chorizo is supposed to be bland, this was a poor chorizo. The basil leaf; emmm; food styling is important, and if you're going to charge eight Euro for five bites they have to be well styled.

And finally the burger. Everything that I said about the mini applied. Because of the bigger size, we could also tell that it was perfectly cooked medium as requested. Unfortunately though, it wasn't the big daddy burger I had been expecting. The diameter was about that of a Mac-Cheese burger (ten centimetres, give or take). Obviously it was a bit fatter. This burger at twelve Euro was what I expect to pay in the more expensive areas like Kefalari, Psixiko, Kolonaki and Bouliagmeni, because I know that (whether I like it or not), my money isn't going to the quality or quantity of the ingredients but to paying the expensive rents that these place will have. But in an area where I look out the window to see heroin addicts taking their next dose, that's not what I expect to pay! More so when everything I've said about the burger applies just as well to "American Burgers", a wonderful burger delivery company in Glifada.

The starters, the burger, with that service at those prices in this area isn't because the food is that good, its because people are taking the Mickey!
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