By Julie Lindow
It is rare that one falls in love with a restaurant. The Fabrika tou Efrosinos is a dream come true, a new restaurant and wine bar in the hopping Koukaki neighborhood of Athens, Greece. The restaurant grew out of the fantastical tale of Efrosinos, the patron saint of all cooks.
The legend of Saint Efrosinos is a bit mysterious. He was a monk who was ridiculed at his monastery because he held a service position as the monastery’s cook. Despite this ill treatment, Efrosinos maintained his devotional work and found it in his heart to forgive his tormentors. One day another monk had a dream in which Efrosinos appeared in a magnificent garden. The monk asked Efrosinos why he was in this garden and Efrosinos replied that the garden was for those who loved God. Since the monk was devoted to God, he asked Efrosinos for something from the garden and Efrosinos gave him three red apples. When the monk woke from his dream, he found three red apples on his chest. He ran to the chapel to find Efrosinos, to praise him, and to ask for repentance. The monk shared the apples with the others in the monastery and those who took a bite were healed. But Efrosinos walked away and they never saw Saint Efrosinos again.
True to the legend, co-owner and chef Giorgos Gatsos has created a modernized version of Greek Orthodox monastery-style cooking based on sour-dough breads, artisanal cheeses, and organic vegetables and herbs that taste as if they were just picked that day from a divine garden. The meats and seafood are all locally sourced as well. Gatsos’ cuisine stems from his studies in theology at Belgarde University and his collaborative relationships with local farmers. Fabrika is Greek slang for kitchen, derived from Russian, with communist connotations; i.e. this restaurant is rooted in community.
Gatsos’ partner and co-owner, Athina Tsoli, is a vintner, and so, yes, their wines come from the same terroir as the food and are paired perfectly with their dishes. Since they use seasonal ingredients, the menu is constantly changing. This makes every trip to the Fabrika exciting—one never knows what new blessed delights will be found.
Within one week we returned to Fabrika tou Efrosinos five times! Lots of natural light, lush trees outside, accents of wood and wild flowers create the ambience of a modern garden. The Serbian artist Gora added some fantastical elements to the decor. A photomural, of perhaps Efrosinos himself graces one entire wall, a surreal fur clock hangs just above, and hanging from the ceiling are bronze chandeliers, supposedly from the summer home of Josip Broz Tito, the former Yugoslavian leader.
Nansy, sister of co-owner Athina, went above and beyond a usual server–her kindness and thoughtfulness made us feel completely at home. She suggested their famous cherry tomato salad, a take on the famous Dakos salad from Crete, but even more delicious because the organic cherry tomatoes were perfectly sweet, the mint freshly picked and bright, the Myzithra and Feta cheeses salty, and the croutons crunchy. The entire salad was ringed gorgeously by a ribbon of cucumber.
On another day I was charmed by the beet and mushroom salad. The beet greens were piled on top in a grand sculpture infused with hints of spearmint and apple vinegar.
We lucked out and were there the week the menu shifted to fall flavors. Their pumpkin and ginger soup was perfectly seasoned and not too sweet with just the right ginger bite.
And of course, being Greece, the lamb ribs were absolutely succulent yet not too fatty, falling off the bone.
Another dish that swooned us was the pappardelle with wild boar. The pappardelle was al dente so that one felt a happy shiver every time one’s teeth bit down on a noodle, and again, the meat was not too fatty, just enough for flavor, making this often rich dish perfectly balanced especially when paired with the outstanding Athina Naoussa red wine. As a side we had large mushrooms sautéed with fennel, rosemary, and deglazed with Malagouzia wine. After this meal, we felt healed.
The Athina Wines are just as fascinating as the cuisine. After years of studying wine-making in France and abroad, Athina and her friend and business partner Ageliki brought their knowledge back to Greece. They describe their wines as a kind of “imperfection-deficiency.” In other words, they are not trying to create some preconceived idea of the perfect wine, but rather they are engaging in a relationship between nature and their imaginations. They are simply using their wine-making skills to help the mysteries of the terroir and the grapes to emerge.
Their dry white wine is from Santorini, where the wine culture is one the world’s oldest, dating back to over 4,000 years. The Assyrtiko variety has a rich mouth feel of complete ripeness and a mineral sharpness from the fine acidity of the volcanic soil. The Naoussa red wine gains its strength from the Xinomavro variety. This wine is described as, “Just like the wondrous cuisine of Mount Athos, where earthy aromas signify the deliciousness of simplicity. Every other intervention is less than necessary.”
I must say that I have only once in eight years of traveling to Greece ever been served a bad glass of wine. I hope that wine distributors continue to bring more Greek wines to the US for our enjoyment.
We often skip dessert in favor of our waistlines, but in Greece it is customary for restaurants to give you on-the-house a few bites of something sweet. At Fabrika they usually brought us homemade chocolates with pistachio, kiwi, prunes or walnuts inside. I usually do not like white chocolate, but their homemade white chocolate was divine with a shot of espresso.
On our last day there, we were given a surprise parting gift. The dessert was a modern twist on the Greek tradition of spoon sweets—fruit soaked in syrup so sweet only a spoon full is served. The red grapelike fruits were scented with a floral, jasmine syrup. I later learned they were peeled cherry tomatoes—I would have never guessed. The olive looking pieces were made of ground green walnuts, a traditional Greek recipe, and infused with a cardamom syrup. They were chewy and heavenly. But my favorite was the orange stars. Orange rinds, or perhaps the rinds of bergamot oranges, soaked in a syrup. And I was relieved that unlike traditional Greek spoon fruits, these were more flavorful than sweet. I had never had anything like them before—a mysterious and mesmerizing floral adventure.
If you find yourself in Athens, Greece, Fabrika tou Efrosinos is a must. The Fabrika tou Efrosinos combines delicious healing dishes and wines with mystery, comfort, community, and nature, all tied together by a fantastical story. It is my favorite restaurant in all the world.
Julie Lindow (aka Jules Lind) is currently working on a series of detective novels set in 1940s San Francisco. Living in and creating a continuum from past to present makes for many a foggy evening walking through time, up and down hills, from libraries, to downtown, to the grand Pacific Ocean. As editor of Left in the Dark: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres she wishes she were spending more time in San Francisco’s historic movie houses, what is left of them, but there has been a lot of work to do lately.
Fabrika tou Efrosinos is working on a website but visit their Facebook page here.
Read what Trip Advisor travellers say.
Greek magazine Propaganda article with more photos—in Greek.