Looking for a Greek cafe / deli / restaurant meeting very specific criteria
I'm constantly amazed by the variety (and quality!) of food in Toronto. I never thought that I would have access to such great, seemingly endless food options within such a short distance of where I live.
One thing that is puzzling me, however, has to do with the Greek food options. I know, I know, I know...the Danforth is teeming with Greek restaurants. But I'm looking for something very specific, and I hope that someone can help me.
Where I used to live in England, I used to enjoy going regularly to this little Greek cafe / deli. It had a small number of seats and tasteful decor (not "sleek" or "chic" but clean and not too tacky). There was a deli counter with various prepared Greek dishes under glass. (Food would be made constantly in the kitchen in the basement and brought up to replace food at the deli counter as it was ordered.) There was a small paper menu that people could look at, but it was unnecessary as you could judge what you wanted to eat by what was under the glass. Food could be wrapped up for you to take home or warmed up to eat in the cafe. I feel that most people hoped to eat in the cafe, if possible. Drink options included wine, beer, soft drinks, sparkling water, and hot beverages. There was a grocery shelf with olive oils of different grades in bottles and tins, as well as bread and other foodstuffs for sale.
The food options included spanakopita, tyropita, fassolada, dolmadies, lachanodolmades, spanakorizo, spetsofai, moussaka, gigandes plaki, bamies, other meat-based and vegetarian stews, Greek salad, and Greek sweet phyllo pastries. There were a couple of special items each day, including a soup of the day. They had great coffees, too.
Is there anything, anywhere in Toronto that fits this bill? I haven't been able to find a place like this, even on the Danforth, but perhaps I haven't tried hard enough. I'm not looking for a place where the emphasis is on souvlaki and fries. (I have nothing against French fries, but that's not what I'm looking for. If the place serves fries with every dish or is a late-night kind of place or has a lot of deep fryers going, then it's definitely not what I'm looking for.) I should also say that I'm looking for the variety of dishes mentioned above, but not for a place that is too formal or too expensive.
Thanks in advance!
I don't think a Greek cafe in Toronto currently exists that could meet all of your criteria.
I second the recommendations of Athens Pastries and Akropolis (east of Pape) for a quick bite in a cafe setting. I usually order loukomades at Athens, since I prefer another style of spanakopita/tyropita that has significantly more filling and significantly less filo. The Greek coffee and frappes at Athens are also quite good. Akropolis serves reasonably priced lunch specials, pizza slices and salads , as well as tyropita, spankopita, and other baked goods. There's a small seating area, so Akropolis might be the closest to a cafe setting, but I don't think they usually serve the casseroles you mentioned.
The following are my suggestions for the places serving or selling some of the specific dishes you mentioned, that you might want to visit.
Serano Bakery and Grocery on Pape has the tinned goods, dry goods, olive oils, pastries, breads, Greek-commercial-bakery-style spanakopita and tyropita, various cheeses, as well as other groceries and baked goods. That's the closest you'll get to a Greek deli these days, afaik. I think I remember hearing Select Bakery also sells moussakas and pastitsos to-go.
All the Greek full-service restaurants on the Danforth will prepare their meals to-go, if you ask. The Greek cafes (521 and Cafe Frappe) in TO serve coffee, frappes, toasts, waffles, ice cream and mediocre pizzas, and don't serve home-style dishes.
I've seen fassolada on several menus on the Danforth, and some restaurants feature it as one of their daily specials. Megas, Kalyvia, Pan and Pantheon are the places I'd suggest you check first, because their clientele might be more likely to order fassolada.
For dolmades, gigantes and moussaka, I've been happy with recent meals at Pan and Pantheon. Pantheon's prices are a little higher than most Greek restos on the Danforth, but the portions tend to be very generous. I've found Pan's kitchen pays a little more attention to the balance of herbs and spices in their home-style dishes than most places. Pantheon's atmosphere includes murals of Greek gods, and Pan's atmosphere is cozy, a little dark and somewhat cluttered and cramped.
I haven't seen lahanodolmades (Greek-style cabbage rolls) on any regular menus, but they might be offered as a special at some places with more homestyle dishes available, such as Megas or Kalyvia. The atmosphere at Megas and Kalyvia is clean, basic, practical, family-restaurant, rather than stylish.
Zorba's, east of Pape, has a hot table which features various casseroles or specials daily. Zorba's menu includes pastitso and moussaka, as well as less common foods such as patsa, alongside the souvlaki and fries. The atmosphere at Zorba's is tired and worn (that might be an understatement), and there are murals on every wall.
Spetsofai is offered at Volos, an upscale Greek resto on Richmond at York, and it is quite good. The atmosphere at Volos is chic and sleek.
Avli serves a giouvetsi. You might like the atmosphere at Avli the best, as it is tidy and a little more refined decor-wise, but prices are higher than other restaurants on the Danforth.
For assorted mezedes, you might want to try Mezes, which has the largest selection of mezes on the Danforth. While I like the mezes I tend to order at Pan the best, Mezes has the biggest selection by far.
I haven't noticed bamies or spanakorizo on any Greek menus in Toronto.
Correct, Akropolis does not have casseroles or other hot table-type dishes. The menu is limited to pitas & pizza with side salad and sweet baked goods and I've never seen any variation.
Pumpkinsage, you could try the hot table at Zorba's followed by dessert at Akropolis, since they are almost across the Danforth from each other. I love Zorba's steam table stuff but the atmosphere is a little depressing. Akropolis is dated but cheery with good service, the owner or her kids are generally in-house.
why not try Select Bakery at Donlands and O'Connor. They have a deli to make a sandwich with your choice of meats and cheese. They also have baked spanakopita and tiropitas and also sell mousaka and pastichio to take home. They also have a large selection of imported Greek items and they also have an area to sit and enjoy a coffee and one of their sweets.
I'm not sure if you'll find a single place which has so much variety, since Greek restaurants here tend to focus on specific areas of expertise. For the pastries (spanakopita, tyropita etc), I'd go to Athens Bakery. The pastries are excellent, although there isn't a lot of variety.