Thasos brings Greek cuisine to an elevated level in a sleek setting.
Experience an elevated level of Greek cuisine, at Thasos Greek Taverna in Ft. Lauderdale. Owners Gus Leontarakis & Sophia Mylona wanted to bring a touch of home to Ft. Lauderdale when they opened Thasos last August. As Gus notes, “Thasos is our best representation of Greek hospitality. Food as we would serve to guests in our own home with just as much, if not more, love and attention.” And they’ve continued to build a steady following as the daring venue evolves. Most notably, they tapped the talents of Executive Chef Brian Cantrell to helm the kitchen. Chef Brian swings some serious culinary cred, including A Fish Called Avalon in Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale’s acclaimed Blue Moon Fish Company – so rest assured, this guy knows his fish! Meanwhile, GM George Mylonas (Sophia’s brother) keeps the front-of- house action running smoothly. Gus and Sophia are from Thessaloniki in northern Greece, and their menu reflects the region’s 3,000-year old rustic fare and focus on fresh seafood -- with some subtle (and some notable) twists on the typical. Chef Brian explains that he set out to bring a “more elevated level to Greek cuisine, while still maintaining its authenticity.” Let’s just say, “Mission Accomplished.”
The sleek structure is a study in white, from the white walls (inside and out), tables, booths, and white-clad servers, to the gleaming open kitchen with its white hanging heat lamps -- right down to the all-white restrooms (with the tallest white bathroom doors you’ve ever seen!). The setting is open and airy, with a lively South Beach-y vibe, tempered by rustic touches including visual scenes of Greece projected on a brick wall via a ceiling-mounted projector. Pastel lighting emits from artsy geometric open ceiling cuts, casting a soft glow amidst the clean white. The front dining room surrounds a lively bar, which mixes up some killer cocktails (try the Karpouzo, a refreshing compound of fresh muddled watermelon, vodka, lemon and ouzo). A larger back dining area provides a bit quieter setting, although the ‘South Beach night club’ techno music seems a bit out of place (especially before the sun goes down), and way too loud. A very cool outdoor patio features a clever open-patched wall for an open-air feeling, yet provides enough sound and sight barrier to make you almost forget you’re just a few feet from Oakland Park Blvd (almost!).
But the main focus is on the open kitchen, where Chef Brian and his team work their magic. An opening basket of crusty bread with tasty Kalamata tapenade proved an enticing harbinger of good things to come. Appetizers include most of the usual suspects (stuffed grape leaves, Avgolemeno (Greek chicken soup with lemon and rice), Spanikopita), each treated to a subtle upgrade. Taramosalata (caviar dip), for instance, sees delicate salmon roe whipped with almond milk, lending a creamy richness to the savory saltiness. It’s one of the Pikilia (Greek spreads), along with Tzaziki (Greek yogurt-cucumber), garlic-infused green Hummus, spicy whipped feta, and roasted Eggplant dip, each served with triangles of hot-off-the-grill pita, bearing the distinctive cross-hatch of the grill.
Grilled Octopus (Oxtopodi), a quintessential Greek dish, is a definite “Must Try.” I order grilled octopus wherever and whenever possible, and Thaso’s fire-grilled rendition is about the best we’ve ever had this side of the Atlantic. Fresh, tender medallions arrive perfectly grilled, exhibiting the perfect balance of firmness and give, and sporting that distinctive earthy, slightly crunchy char of the wood flames, too often missing from other versions. Unexpected touches of capers, cherry tomatoes and Kalamatas (indicative of the northern Greek influence) prove a perfect enhancement, plus a finishing flurry of micro greens lending subtle dimension and visual appeal. Shrimp Saganaki is another standout, flame-broiled with feta cheese, which subtly melds into the zesty roasted tomato-ouzo sauce.
Starters can easily make a meal on their own, and grazing your way through the Mezze (most $9-$12) is certainly a viable option. Either way, make sure the Thasos Watermelon Salad is part of your journey. Cubes of imported Greek feta lie strategically perched upon precisely cut cubes of fresh cold watermelon, finished with aged balsamic and fresh mint. The sweet juiciness of the watermelon and surprisingly subtle, almost creamy feta (I could tell at first bite, this is the real stuff!), along with the fragrant mint and sweet-acidic tang of the aged balsamic, all sing together in delicious harmony. Other choices range from Roasted Beets and Brussels Sprouts (with lemon, honey, and crispy pork belly) to mini spit-roasted Lamb Flatbread.
But Chef Brian really gets to flex his culinary muscles with the entrees, where that oak wood imbues its wonderful earthy smokiness and distinctive char to all of its lucky recipients. As expected, fresh seafood takes center stage, reflecting the typical cuisine of Gus’ homeland, along with Chef Brian’s predilection toward the sea. Most notably, Lavraki, a Mediterranean sea bass (‘Bronzino’s Greek cousin’) is grilled whole and kissed by the flames of the oak fire. No heavy sauces to bastardize this beauty -- just a hit of fresh lemon, herbs, and fragrant EVOO (Greek, of course!) to accentuate its pure, natural goodness. For a slightly less rustic experience, the server is happy to filet it tableside. The flames also love the Lamb Chops ($15/$30), confirming my culinary conclusion that “Nobody does lamb like the Greeks!” Other Large Plates ($25 – $32) include oak-grilled Swordfish, organic Salmon, Filet Mignon Souvlaki (kabobs), Seared Day Boat Scallops, Roasted Chicken, and spit-roasted Pork Loin.
Desserts are housemade – and of course, delicious. A multi-layered Baklava is outstanding, and comes stacked so high it looks more like two. Meanwhile, the Chocolate Temptation, a parfait-like layering of vanilla cream, insanely rich dark chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, would satisfy Athena herself. Top it off with a glass (OK, another glass!) of Ouzo, and enjoy your mini Greek vacation -- Thasos style. Opa!
Thasos Greek Taverna is located at 3330 E Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale (just east of the Intracoastal). Call (954) 200-6006 or visit http://www.thasostaverna.com.