Aegina. My home and certainly the place where my heart is. I am still constantly finding new places to love here.
At the northern end of the main town, right next to the port and behind a large square which provides calm and green, comfortably settled into a neoclassical building and the small courtyard in front of it, is one of the most interesting eateries on the island: Alenti (a word describing the rhythm/melody of music from the small island of Kassos – next to Crete).
Alenti opened it’s doors in July 2014. This summer, locals and tourists alike found their way here much thanks to the live music performed several nights of the week. The food – not strictly Cretan, the very reasonably priced wine and raki, the large welcoming bar, and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere then kept them coming back. Alenti also has the most modest restaurateur I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Mixalis Papakanakis lives most of the year in Crete. With heritage from Crete and Kassos, he is pretty much Cretan to the bone, and while he has never worked as a chef, he created the menu for Alenti himself. No one would expect it, but most of the dishes were developed on a simple gas burner in his kitchen.
Photos by Ioanna Pagalia
Alenti has the feel of a family run restaurant, and from what I can tell, they work as one. Mixalis develops the recipes, which he shares with Kasim and Manolis – the cooks – who then try them out along with Manolis’ wife Anna and the rest of the staff; Takis, Rania, and Giorgos. Manolis is also one of the musicians performing each Thursday, and when Mixalis is on the island, he too joins the musical group with his Cretan lyre. Not to mention the customers. Anyone can join in the performance.
Mixalis explains: “I believe that Alenti belongs to us all; it isn’t, and can’t ever be, mine.” When asked how he would describe Alenti to a foreigner, he says: “We are not a traditional tavern, but we’re not a fine restaurant either. Bar/restaurant is a common classification that we fall into, but we also very much resemble a mezedopoleio.”
Oh, yes, the Greek mezedopoleio. The inspiration for this site and my biggest soft spot. Imagine being invited to a private home and relaxing with the family of the house around a small table in their garden, sampling various local specialties and washing them down with homemade wine or traditional spirits. Someone brings out a bouzouki or a Cretan lyre, and a singalong immediately starts. That is what it’s like to visit a mezedopoleio in Greece. The atmosphere is relaxed, the spirits are strong and plenty, and the food is intense in flavor, focused on traditional and local products and the best way to enhance them.
Alenti is all of that, but not exclusively. Aside from mezedes, there are plenty of main dishes on the menu. But even if you choose to have a regular meal here, perhaps accompanied by one of the house cocktails or a bottle from the wine list, chances are you’ll still be inspired to eat off each other’s plates as the Greeks do, forgetting all about which dish was intended as a starter and who originally ordered what.
Mixalis will insist that all he wants is to fill Alenti with happy people. You don’t even have to order food, even though drinks are so cheap it is obvious to any outsider that a seat lost to someone who’s just thirsty could be a problem. But he doesn’t agree. “You are more than welcome to just enjoy a drink at the bar or at an open table”.
He should have no problem sticking to those good intentions, because guests can rarely resist eating here anyway. The food, while focused on local products and never disrespectful towards traditional recipes, is playful and interesting.
Take the breakfast menu for example (yes, Alenti is open from 8 in the morning). It features excellent country style sour dough bread, topped with handmade jams, local cheese, or avocado. Or you can enjoy aragos – a soft, slightly sweet cheese from Crete which is also available on the evening menu – topped with grated tomato and raisins.
Photos by Ioanna Pagalia
For dinner, I recommend focusing on mezedes.
The spinach rice with Greek saffron is delicious, as are the mushrooms stuffed with crushed pistachios. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, the “sfiakiani” – a thin pie filled with soft cheese and drizzled with honey – will satisfy your cravings. One of my favorites on the menu is the classic “tigania” (pan-fry), with tender pork fillet. Another is the oven-baked potatoes, and a must-try is the apaki; smoked pork or chicken fillet served with a generous sprinkle of dried fruits. If you are lucky, you’ll find my absolute favorite dish, which is off-menu, but often served as a special; the pancetta with potatoes, roasted for four to five hours in a wood burning oven, making it melt in your mouth.
Of course, if you’re a large company, mains can be eaten meze style as well. Try the grilled sprat with spinach, the mushroom patties, or the handmade pasta with pesto or sitaka (Makarounes me sitaka – or macaroni with Sitaka cheese – is the best mac and cheese you’ll ever taste).
Photos by Paulina Björk Kapsalis
Alenti is one of my greatest tips for anyone visiting Aegina island. The main attraction of this restaurant? It’s hard to say if it is the food, the music, or the overall atmosphere. What I know for sure is that tradition meets modern here in a way that is playful, yet somehow intuitive, and the results are brilliant. If you are visiting on a weekend or a Thursday, be sure to make reservations (information below).
Open hours: 8:00AM – 2:00AM
Reservations: +30 22974 01001
Events: Live music performed each Thursday, as well as other days of the week. Follow Alenti on Facebook for updates.
- Small bottle of raki 3€
- ½ litre of wine 5€
- Mezedes from: 3,80€
- Mains: 7-13€
Accepts credit cards: Yes
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