Athanasios Barlos left one sun-kissed land for another when he came to South Florida from Greece. He recently opened Pega Modern Greek Grill in downtown, where customers can sit under an umbrella on Flagler Street and enjoy a Greek burger or authentic Greek salad (no lettuce).Greek cuisine is an amalgam of influences including Byzantine, Balkan, Turkish and Venetian. To say it’s ancient is an understatement; the first known Greek cookbook was written in 320 B.C. Barlos grew up helping his mother cook. He studied international trade in France and earned a degree in business administration at Manhattan College in New York, returning to Greece to open an Italian restaurant in the heart of Athens. After visiting a friend in Miami, he relocated here in 1992 and went on to run Elia and Ariston restaurants. His new cafe’s name is derived from Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. The small, chic space specializes in gyros made with chicken, pork or a mix of beef and lamb that’s cooked on rotating vertical spits. Shavings are served in pita with yogurt sauce, red onion and tomatoes. Kebabs may have originated in Persia, but they have been adopted by many cuisines. The skewers here are marinated in oil with a little lemon and oregano. Choose from beef, lamb, chicken, pork or shrimp served with grilled vegetables, pita and a choice of fries, rice pilaf or lemon potatoes. Salads include warm beets drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil and steamed vlita (wild amaranth greens) tossed with olive oil and lemon. Meze can be ordered as a platter with hummus, eggplant, tzatziki and tarama (carp roe) or singly. Try mixed Greek olives, spicy feta dip or a small spinach pie. Homemade baklava tastes like sweetness and light. Kali orexi! (Bon appetite!) Linda Bladholm’s latest book is “Latin and Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified.” She blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.
If you go
What: Pega Modern Greek Grill
Address: 15 E. Flagler St., Miami (across from Macy’s)
Contact: 305-808-6666, pegagrill.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Prices: Salads $4.95-$7.95, meze $2.95-$3.95, mains $5.95-$14.95, sweets $2.95-$4.95
Warm Cauliflower Salad with Tuna and Olives (Kounoupidi Me Tono Kai Elies)
Serve as a main dish with bread or rice pilaf or as part of a meze spread.
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into very small florets
1 (4-ounce) can of imported tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Steam the cauliflower until soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Place the warm cauliflower, tuna, onion and olives in a serving bowl and combine well. Whisk the olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl to emulsify. Pour over the salad. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat well. Makes 4 servings.
Source: Adapted from “The Glorious Foods of Greece” by Diane Kochilas (Morrow, 2001).
Per Serving: 232 calories (72 percent from fat), 18.7 g fat (2.3 g saturated, 9.4 g monounsaturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 2.1 g fiber, 400 mg sodium.