When in Tarpon Springs, coast to Costa’s Restaurant

Too much dressing mars Costa's Greek Salad

By Mary D. Scourtes

When a Greek fisherman catches an octopus, he leaves it out in the sun to dry before he pounds his prey into submission. But there are other ways to soften the cephalopod. Costa’s  Restaurant owner Stelios Migadakis boils this creature from the briny deep. He says he is careful not to cook it too long or too short because it’s tricky tenderizing its tough muscles and connective tissues. After broiling it with lemon, garlic and oregano, he sells a whopping 100 pounds of this tentacled treat every week. The dish is No. 1 in his small café.

Costa’s is not on tourist’s row along the Bayou in Tarpon Springs, but tucked on a side street. It is a few doors down from National Bakery where Stelios buys his delicious bread. His mother’s recipes, along with good service, keep his place filled with the locals.

“We have Greek food, American food, seafood and sandwiches, but we don’t mass produce it, like an Applebee’s or Chilies,’’ he boasts.

He bought the place about five years ago when he was on vacation from New York. And while he puts in long hours at the eatery, he’s happy that his wife can afford to stay home to be with their two sons. The atmosphere is also family friendly. Start your meal with one of the spreads  — chick pea hummus, potato and garlic skordalia, sour cream-cucumber tzatziki, or spicy feta tirokafteri — which lather flavor onto soft Greek bread.

An order of spanakopita, a crisp, golden, phyllo-wrapped appetizer, a nice onion, feta and spinach combination, or tiropita, a similar appetizer without the spinach, bring out your inner Greek. Shrimp saganaki with white wine and feta, is also recommended. Other options include sautéed mussels in red wine and tomato sauce and dolmades, which are grape vine leaf roll-ups with beef and rice.

Can’t decide? The Greek combo has our favorite, pastitsio, with layers of tubular macaroni and tomato-y ground beef, united by a smooth egg and cheese sauce. Costa’s bakes it in a large pan, cuts off a portion and then tops with tomato sauce. With the order comes the eggplant- and cream-sauced moussaka, gyro slices and dolmades. Another combo is char-broiled octopus, fried calamari and fried smelts.

Grilled onions and peppers team with lamb and flavored rice

Tender chunks of marinated lamb with a soul-warming olive oil and lemon marinade pair with grilled onions and peppers. Costa’s serves lamb as chops and a slow-roasted, shank. The menu also includes stuffed peppers and tomatoes, ground beef and lamb gyros, tomato-sauced, baked beef soutzoukskia, and meat-stuffed zucchini gemista.

A popular seller is the Gulf U Peel Shrimp, with a tangy blend of olive oil, lemon and oregano.

Dinners come with either a baby tossed salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, or a $3 upgrade to a small Greek salad. But there was too much dressing, making it kind of sloppy on the plate and I missed the traditional anchovies I love.

Costa’s also serves feta omelets, egg wraps and other morning foods on the weekends.

We were too full for dessert, though choices include baklava, baklava flavored cheesecake, rice pudding and homemade yogurt.

If you wonder about the name, it’s not from Stelios but a leftover from the brother of an original owner over a quarter century ago.

Costa’s Restaurant
Where:
521 Athens St, Tarpon Springs
Hours: M- F, 11 am to 10 pm; S-Sun: 8 am to 10 pm
Pay for it: MC, V, Discover
Reservations: (727) 938-6890
http://www.costascuisine.com

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Opa! for Ouzo: Greeks love their Ouzo, a cloyingly sweet blend of grapes, aniseed, licorice, mint, wintergreen, fennel and hazelnut. It’s usually served as an aperitif. If ice or water is added, its oils dissolve and transform into white crystals, which turns it opaque. Cocktails made with Ouzo

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Hide the oil: You know Greeks pour olive oil on everything, which has health benefits, including preventing cancer, heart problems, or diabetes. Enjoy it but resist the temptation to place its decorative bottle on your windowsill. Heat and light promote rancidity. More about olive oil’s health benefits

Other olive oil information:
What exactly does “good” olive oil mean?
Knowledge from an olive: the similarities between wine and olives

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