Monday, August 5, 2013

Gluten Free in Greece Part 1: Athens

As I mentioned a few blog posts back, a few girlfriends and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Greece in May.  It was the first time I had been out of the country since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2008 and have plenty to share about the experience.

Greeks are extremely nice people.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can’t at least speak basic English and everyone I encountered seemed very willing to help me figure out what I could eat.  I’ve heard that Italy is very aware of Celiac Disease and was hoping Greece would be the same; but sadly, it wasn’t.  The one great thing about Greece is that most of their food is fresh and their only marinades are olive oil, lemon and oregano. I used my Triumph Dining cards every time I ate out and I highly recommend them to anyone preparing to travel.

Breakfast was my lifeline while in Greece.  All of our hotels had hearty breakfasts that included a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, fruit, hard boiled eggs, bacon, sausage and greek yogurt with all the fixings.  (The greek yogurt is out of this world!)  One word of caution though: in Athens I found out that our hotel’s salami was beer salami.  I’m not sure if that’s a hotel specialty or if it’s a tradition throughout Greece, but stay away just in case.

Okay, so where did I eat while in Athens?

The view from Xenios Zeus 
Xenios Zeus: This Rick Steve’s suggestion was located at the very top of Restaurant Hill and was worth every step to get there.  The view of Athens at night from our table was absolutely stunning and the restaurant served authentic Greek platters at a great price.  The chef altered my plate due to my allergy and made me stuffed vine leaves, a fava bean salad and a stuffed onion accompanied by tzakiki, hummus and a mustard sauce. For desert, instead of the baklava he served my friends, he prepared a sweetened greek yogurt with a cherry compote. The food was absolutely spectacular and I devoured the entire plate.  Unfortunately, there must have been something in one of those dishes because I was not a happy camper soon after.  I still recommend this restaurant based on their view and the authenticity of the food, but recommend asking the chef more questions or sticking to the greek salad.
Enjoying a glass of wine at the Athens Gate Hotel restaurant

Athens Gate Hotel:  This hotel was home to us during our 3 days in Athens and was perfectly positioned near all the major attractions. The chef at the hotel’s restaurant was very helpful and made me a special salad using a special skillet, cutting board and knife to cut the chicken.  They were extremely helpful with my allergy and also offered a variety of risottos, fresh fish dishes and salads that seemed gluten-free.  Their breakfast was also very hearty and an easy bet for me, just don’t eat the salami!

Potatoes with olive oil, cheese & oregano at Filistron
Filistron's Deck during a rain shower
Filistro: The signs outside the restaurant read ‘Filistron’ and is divided into a ground-floor level and a detached terrace level. The entrance to this roof-top deck is hidden around the street corner.  The view of Athens as the sun sets is amazing, and is actually another one of Rick Steve’s suggestions. When we arrived we were greeted by a shot of tequila (not traditional but hey, we didn’t complain!), olives, hummus and bread (not gluten free unfortunately).  The waiter was well versed in gluten and told me he could suggest a variety of main dishes.  I stuck to a lighter dish and ordered the grilled potato slices with grated cheese, olive oil and oregano.  It was delicious and really hit the spot.  If you’re looking for an authentic Greek restaurant with a knowledgeable staff, this one is a great option!

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