Florida: coast by coast V – Tarpon Springs

The many faces of Florida, Part V – Tarpon Springs,  a bit of Greece on the Gulf

It is times like this I wish the Internet had “scratch and sniff” capability. Only then could you enjoy the complete Tarpon Springs Greek experience; but let’s try without it.

As you drive into the Sponge Dock district, don’t be discouraged by the number of people ambling along the walks, crossing back and forth, stopping to feel the merchandise. Instead, become a party to the festive atmosphere. This is a walking town, so plan your parking ahead of time, go to it, and forget the car for the day.

You would be wise to bring a thermal bag with you because no one leaves Tarpon Springs without some gooey Greek pastries at the least. Chances are you’ll also have a “take out box” from the enormous meals served at the restaurants.

Bring your appetite with you!

Greek restaurants line the waterfront. From ice cream and snacks to full meals, you won’t be disappointed. Most places offer combination plates; great for expanding your knowledge of Greek food. A few of my favorite dishes are spinach in filo pastry (spanakopita), moussaka, stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), and for dessert, baklava.

If you want to jump into the spirit of Greece, gather your friends, order a libation (ouzo or beer), and celebrate as the waiter arrives with your appetizer, saganaki; a dish made with kasseri cheese aflame, as onlookers yell, “OPA!

I’ve partaken of this ritual many times, but until now, never knew the meaning of “Opa!” To let you in on the secret, I went to the Urban Dictionary and found “it is a word that Greek people use for no apparent reason at all”

My personal favorite restaurant is Hellas.

Helas' fresh fish of the day

Fresh fish of the day - Credit: Helas Restaurant

 

A colorful, tiled open-air porch beckons you to have a seat right at the sidewalk. Peer through the wide doors to view murals depicting Greek life and scenery. Strains of music enhance the mood. Depending on the weather, eat inside or out. Gracious servers will help with the menu, assuring you will get what you expect. This is a place where two or three people can order different dishes and mix & match. Try it all.

A few steps west of Hellas restaurant you’ll find their bakery, and what a bakery! I can taste the syrupy, nutty baklava as I write. Every time I have gone there, with or without a group in tow, boxes of sweet pastries have teased my nose all the way home. Don’t put them within reach while driving: worse than texting.

Sponges drying at the doc

Sponges drying at the doc

I take no praise away from the indoor establishments across the street, directly on the docks. They too, offer excellent, authentic Greek cooking while you watch the sponge boats tie up. I just have a thing about eating outdoors if possible.

Prices on Dodecanese Boulevard are reasonable. At Hellas, for example, a large combination platter is $17. Assorted appetizers average $6. Lamb dishes – for which the Greeks are famous run from $13 for leg of lamb to $23 for lamb chops.

Other Restaurants

If parking becomes a problem, there are several Greek restaurants around the corner from Dodecanese Boulevard on West Athens Street. One,  Costa’s serves up fare to equal Hellas’ and offers free all day parking. If you would like a little Greek music while browsing, turn on your sound, and enjoy it while looking over their menu.

Visitors who have been to Tarpon Springs in the past probably remember Pappas, the large establishment on the corner as you enter the sponge market area. I never really cared for it even though it was extremely popular. The food was good, but the restaurant lacked “color” and warmth. Perhaps that’s what accounted for its slow demise. But like Phoenix arising from the proverbial ashes, a larger, grander, and finer restaurant has risen;

The Riverside Grill House.

The Riverside Grille House

View from the Anclote River of The Riverside Grille House. Credit: Riverside Grille House

With a veranda overlooking the Anclote River sponge docks and an upscale cosmopolitan menu, The Riverside Grill House is a great addition to the city. It is bound to draw in diners from the surrounding golf communities and others who have come to Tarpon Springs to enjoy its history, art, architecture, crafts, and studios, all of which are year-round attractions.

This other side of the city, including on-going programs and events will be covered in a separate article to be published shortly. Please hit the “like” or “subscribe” buttons and you will be notified by e-mail when ready.


In the meantime:
Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek on YouTube (brings tears to my eyes)

Enjoy a stroll in the sponge district. The Sponge Museum presents an excellent history of the industry with a movie and artifacts. The central market place is interesting for learning more about the industry today. Several shops offer soft sponges for bathing and cleaning, as well as hard ones, luffa, for dermabrasion. Every imaginable type of souvenir is available.

In short, let yourself go and be a tourist for the day.

Kayakers and canoers take note. It is also possible to visit the sponge docks by water. The Green Wave Forum

Getting to Tarpon Springs: Google Map

Back to Florida: coast by coast I II, IIIIV

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