Hidden amongst vegetable patches, Kostas’ taverna reminds one of a classic rural taverna, bedecked as it is with flags from the Greek War of Independence. The customers are locals but well turned out, people of every stripe come here for lunch (it’s not open for dinner). And many of them think it serves the best traditional food in Kalamata.
The menu is just a guide. Don’t rely on it. Listen to Kostas instead, who will give you a performance worthy of the stage as he describes the dishes of the day and takes orders, proposing what he thinks will appeal to each customer, depending on whether their preference is for meat or fish. This is usually the best way to be sure of eating well.
But if Kostas presides over the dining room with his jokes and comments, the soul of the place is his wife, Maria Karga, the cook.
On her feet from early morning, she takes delivery of the day’s produce – much of which comes from local women who gather wild greens from the hillsides, and by noon she has prepared some 30 cooked dishes!
‘I really love to cook traditional food, but Kostas keeps pressuring me to be more ‘gourmet’! I do him the favour, what else can I do, but I make them in as traditional way as I can’! Maria tells us with a sly chuckle. She’s a dignified presence with a sweet smile and beautiful eyes.
Here are some of her dishes: ‘fake’ meatless moussaka, with local greens like borage and myroni; a delectable imam baildi (baked aubergines with onions, tomatoes and plenty of olive oil) with peppers and olives here; vergadi (16-month-old kid) baked in a clay pot; kayianas (omelette) with cured pork or local sausage; and a wonderful sour dough bread. Her courgette flowers with herbs are a masterpiece, as are her spinach with small white beans and her fresh porcini mushrooms stuffed with spring onions and peppers.
If by chance your preference is for fish, then before the fresh fish comes to the table, along with more usual mezedes, you could be served grilled butterflied sardines and/or octopus with fava (split yellow pea puree).
The wine is their own, unbottled; It is reminiscent of the Debina of Zitsa (Epirus).
For dessert, Maria makes ‘diples’ – feather-light sheets of pastry, fried in good oil and sprinkled with honey.