Eleni Theodorou came to this memory-laden wine/cookshop, which dates to 1812. Although her origins are Tinian, she moved here from Athens with her family, intending to reclaim her roots and build her nest. She chose this little koutouki (eatery), which was once a hangout where travellers, writers,and artists would go for food and inspiration. Its long past includes a time in the 60s-70s when it specialized in patsas (tripe soup), and some of its history and memories are recorded in photos on the walls – of groups of friends from between the Wars who used to drink wine together, of old fellows with period hats carrying baskets with local products. It’s a magical place.
To Koutouki tis Elenis (Eleni’s Place) consists of two rectangular rooms joined by an arch, with walls of Tinos stone with niches. Historic mementos and objects – like garlands of peppers and spices, wooden spoons and copper pots hang from the ceiling – while Eleni has also used musical instruments and fishing boat lights to create a nostalgic atmosphere. And in this wonderful setting, Eleni has been serving her customers with a smile that never leaves her lips for the past 20 years winter and summer (I have a special admiration for restaurants that don’t cater solely to tourists). And sharing her experiences.
The shop’s surroundings are attractive too, the narrow alley just outside decorated with hydrangeas and other flowers that decorate the ledges and corners. The mezedes and meals served remind one of country cooking, the cooking of our childhood, the tastes of the slowfood eateries of the old days: stuffed cabbage leaves, of which Eleni is particularly proud, rabbit stew, squab with pilaf, lamb with thyme, veal with lemon, salt cod with garlic sauce…
There are also plenty of local dishes, such as wild fennel pancakes, fried sundried tomatoes, wild mushrooms, artichoke pies, stewed artichokes (finger-licking good), Tinos omelette with louza and local sausage, stuffed aubergines, and local cheeses. Weather permitting, fresh fish are also on the menu, like red mullet and whatever the nets bring up, while the historic tripe soup and fish soup remain the emblematic specialties of the house.
To Koutouki tis Elenis, open all year, is a repository of wonderful tastes and human warmth. I have to confess I adored it.