A secret family taverna
Traditional taverna on Kefallinia
Twelve years ago the Gonata family opened their restaurant on the Greek island of Kefallinia. Back then, in the town of Ay Eufimia, there were only a few other businesses. The port had once been the main stopping point for ferries to the island but that all changed after the facilities were destroyed in an earthquake in 1953. For decades, the place had been off the radar.
But as life slowly started to come back to Ay Eufimia and the yachts began to use the port for refuge of the evening, commerce returned. The Gonata family, who had long been residents of Kefallinia, opened shop. This was not so strange back then… but today their story is a rarity.
The restaurant is called ‘Amalia’ and it’s a short walk from the marina where we’ve moored our yacht. Although it’s not far, it seems like we’re leaving the bright lights of the town that services the boats and their crews. If it hadn’t been for the Greek skipper of the Intrepid Travel sailing tour I was on, it would have been hard to find.
“How did you know to come here?” the waitress asks our captain in Greek.
“Someone down at the port recommended it,” he replies.
“Ah… but you know I can’t tell you that,” he answers with a smile.
When the conversation was translated for me, I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t he tell the waitress who had made the recommendation? It seemed like it would be a nice thing to do.
But the captain explained. The restaurants down by the boats are very competitive and try to attract the business of the sailors. If they knew that a local was sending business away from them, up the hill to ‘Amalia’, they’d be very unhappy.
Because that’s the difference between ‘Amalia’ and the flashier restaurants. The Gonata family has not created a business for the tourists or the foreigners – and they don’t play the game with the others. It’s for the locals on the island. The quality and the price prove that!
Best food at Ay Eufimia, Kefallinia
The waitress turns out to be the 18-year-old daughter of the family. Also working tonight are her mother, father, uncle, aunt, two brothers and cousins. She was just six years old when the restaurant opened (and I’m given a stern and disapproving look from the captain when I try to ask how old she was when she started working).
She explains the philosophy behind the meals. It’s the kind of food you would find in every house in Greece, she says. Nothing has been frozen and everything is cooked fresh. Each day the family members go down into the town to buy the food from the markets or directly from the fishermen.
We don’t need an invitation to order generously from the menu. Sardines, lamb chops, zucchini balls, and more. The seafood is definitely a stand out – my favourite, the grilled octopus, which is moist and not chewy. But the real specialties of the Gonata family, they tell me, are the roast pork and the peppers stuffed with rice.
We wash it all down with the traditional ouzo, mixed only with ice and water. At the end of the meal, the family offers us a free dessert of baklava, just in case we hadn’t already been suitably impressed with their hospitality. And when the bill arrives, it’s unsurprisingly low.
You see, I’ve found around the world that the quality of food is often inversely proportional to its cost. The evening at ‘Amalia’ proved to be no exception. The restaurant wouldn’t be the same, though, if it was full of tourists. It’s nice to know it’s still a favourite of the locals and hasn’t been corrupted by the game down by the water. So, thank you, to the anonymous man who pointed our captain on this tack. And, thank you, for not telling anyone else.
* Time Travel Turtle was a guest on Intrepid Travel’s Sail Greece – Ionian Sea trip but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.