Casual dining is eating at friendly prices in a relaxed atmosphere, without the formality or costs associated with a fine-dining experience. In recent months, two new venues in Thessaloniki, which sprang up without fanfare and yet quickly became popular hangouts, are achieving a happy balance that includes both a less formal environment and high-quality flavors on offer.
First, we head to the city’s eastern suburbs, where a Bauhaus-style building hosts an eatery notable for its north European name and its flavors. In May 2021, Giorgos Papadopoulos’ twenty years of experience in Thessaloniki’s restaurant scene came together with Alexandros Panopoulos’ expertise in pastries to create OSTEN, a restaurant located a short distance outside Thermi. The menu is the work of chef Giorgos Kordonis. OSTEN’s philosophy embraces a multitude of cuisines based, nonetheless, on Mediterranean influences and ingredients from across Greece.
Brunch options include sandwiches made with panini and brioche bread baked in-house from the same slow-rising dough that the restaurant uses for its homemade pasta as well, while vegetarian choices have yogurt from Drama, honey from Lake Kerkyni, and Greek fruit and nuts. They serve a special coffee blend which combines Arabica beans from Ethiopia, Colombia and Mexico. Daily specials change frequently and feature a variety of flavors in dishes such as soup with kavourma, or beef confit, offering great choices at low prices. “The main feature of OSTEN is that it has no single identity. We just want people to come and enjoy high quality food all hours of the day,” says Papadopoulos.
Our next stop is the Pelosof-Amarilo-Pardo arcade at 22 Tsimiski, the location of the old pre-war post office as well as shops serving the Jewish community. Few locals even knew the name of the arcade until last December, when Vassilis Saïtis and Giannis Balafoutis paid homage to the Jewish heritage of Thessaloniki by naming their new enterprise Pelosof. Entering the arcade, the visitor is greeted by a vast minimalist bar that complements the majestic architectural space.
The restaurant operates in the basement, offering two separate menus, one for brunch and lunch and the other for dinner. Using ingredients from local suppliers, Pelosof offers dishes with Levantine and Middle Eastern influences, reflecting Thessaloniki’s gastronomic identity without the pretensions that can come with fine dining. The unique flavors are the stuff of memories: handmade naan accompanying signature eastern Mediterranean kebabs; red-pepper harissa paste, better known in western Macedonia as ajvar, which accompanies main plates; and ten signature cocktails.
“The idea behind our cuisine and the casual dining experience has nothing to do with fast food; it refers to the overall experience – the space, the colors of the food, the new flavors, the music, something for all senses that creates a sense of comfort,” says Balafoutis, explaining a project that has already, in just its first month of existence, been embraced by the city.