By: Jason Perlow
With year-round summers and crisp Mediterranean ocean breezes, you’d think Greek food would be more popular in South Florida. But it’s challenging to find quality Athenian cuisine in this part of the state.
We have the very modern and chic Ethos, located in the Promenade shopping center in Coconut Creek, popular with the Happy Hour and the “ladies who lunch” crowd. In Margate, there is the excellent and homestyle YiaYia’s on Atlantic Boulevard, which opened in March of 2019.
Meanwhile, Coral Springs has not had a full-service Greek restaurant for some time. The last was Mythos, which served a loyal following of customers at The Walk for nine years before closing in 2013.
The Falafel Bistro is trendy, but its cuisine is Israeli, so the food is a bit different. Gyromania, while Greek, is more of a quick-serve, counter service establishment specializing in gyros and other sandwiches. A Gyroville quick-serve chain location is also expected to open in Coral Springs this summer.
Taverna Evia, named for the large, densely populated island just off the coast of Athens, has just opened at the former site of brunch spot The Egg and I on University Drive. The location, which for a brief period was named The Gianni (and later, Prince Diner) is hoping to break the Greek restaurant curse that the Stygian witches have seemingly placed on our town.
Owned and managed by restaurateur Nico Diperna (former GM of Rafina in Boca Raton) and his family, Taverna Evia has completely transformed the space that the previous restaurants occupied.
Instead of a carpeted diner with booths, it is now an exquisite, modern-looking restaurant, an ample open space with polished concrete floors, a fiber-optic illuminated bar, dark wooden tables, wine racks, and grey brick walls. The inviting outdoor patio dining area is enlivened with green plants, drop lanterns, and Greek columns, and is a great spot to have lunch or dinner on a breezy day.
The restaurant is now well-placed to shed its former breakfast joint image and establish itself as the premier Greek dining destination in Coral Springs.
The only evidence this place was ever a brunch spot is the mid-century modern “egg” fixture on the ceiling, now stuccoed and incorporated into the overall aesthetic of the restaurant.
Don’t rush your evening at Taverna Evia — we suggest you check out the restaurant’s Happy Hour. The bar has a selection of different well liquors for $4 or $5 that can be had with your choice of mixers, which includes Ouzo Boutari — the Greek anise-flavored firewater (similar to, but stronger than Sambuca) that is best served over ice to nurse with small sips on a hot day and works wonders as an aperitif.
A meal here will start with a complementary trio of dips that change daily, but will almost certainly include their very excellent Tzatziki, which is a dill-flavored yogurt and cucumber dip. It is garlicky, creamy and refreshing, and pairs well with accompanying toasted pita. Frankly, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had. The thin shreds of cucumber, which still have a little bit of skin on them, add a nice vegetal crispness to the thick and creamy Greek yogurt.
The hummus is good, but it’s more of a supporting player, and it can benefit with additional garlic. If the gods of Olympus deem it, you’ll come on a night they are serving the spicy cheese dip, the Tirokafteri, made with feta, garlic, roasted red pepper, and chile flakes. All of these are also available to order as additional sides or appetizers.
Of the Happy Hour bar snacks we had, that are priced accordingly between $5 and $7; a standout is the Spanakopita, a generously portioned spinach and feta cheese pie. We paired this with the Greek Salad Skewers, simple kebabs of fresh tomato, kalamata olives, and cucumber, with olive oil, oregano, and vinegar dressing served with large triangular chunks of imported Greek feta cheese.
We also enjoyed the Feta Pretzels, which are soft breadsticks, topped with salty feta cheese crumbles and served with a large dollop of tzatziki over shredded romaine in the center. These were excellent for soaking up the remaining liquor in our bloodstream.
On to main dishes. Opa!
Taverna Evia is both exceptionally skilled at preparing seafood as well as meat dishes, so there’s something for everyone on the menu.
The charcoal grilled octopus appetizer is incredibly tender, seasoned with just a hint of salt, capers, lemon, and oregano, and sits on only a small drizzle of Greek olive oil.
My avgolemono, the classic egg, lemon, and chicken soup was a rare miss, as it lacked rice or orzo. Apparently, the cook forgot to stir it in — each serving is prepared to order. My wife liked it though and appreciated the strong lemony flavor, the silky texture, and tender shreds of chicken meat in it.
Shrimp and Scallops Youvetsi, a classic, boilerplate orzo pasta dish, is by far one of the best examples we’ve had in South Florida. Two huge sea scallops and four jumbo shrimps are sauteed in a fresh tomato sauce alongside spinach, onions, and garlic, topped with crumbles of feta cheese. This melt-in-your-mouth seafood pasta dish is a much brighter, lighter version than we’ve had at other places in Broward and Palm Beach County. If you happen to have any left over, I advise you to bring it home and eat it at room temperature for lunch the next day, so the shellfish doesn’t get overcooked when reheated.
Bronzini (also known as Mediterranean Seabass) is grilled whole, seasoned with just salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It is served with seasonal sauteed vegetables, including their excellent lemon potatoes which you can have as a side with any entree. Bereft of any complex sauces to interfere with its natural flavor, it’s a straightforward fish dish, as the Greeks would have it.
If you’re inclined to have meat, I highly recommend the Village Feast, which includes lamb chops, beef keftedes (round ground meat kebabs), chicken souvlaki, pork loukaniko sausage, and gyro meat. It comes with a big Greek salad, as well as sides of rice, potatoes, and vegetables. It’s supposed to serve two people, but frankly, I think a couple would end up taking quite a bit home with how much food they give you.
The lamb chops we ordered medium rare were cooked perfectly, and the lemon juice-marinated chicken kebabs came out juicy and tender, which is no mean feat for breast meat.
The ground beef kebabs are a bit bready to my taste, but the restaurant is still tweaking them. The pork sausage, a classic ouzeri dish, is excellent with just a hint of orange zest and fennel seed.
I am not generally a fan of gyro because most restaurants buy it in frozen cones from about a few commercial meat processors in Chicago, and it isn’t authentically Greek in origin. Taverna Evia gets theirs from a sister restaurant in New Jersey that makes their own. It is far less salty and processed, cooked in small loaves and is crisped up in slices to order. You can absolutely taste the difference.
The classic home-style casseroles, moussaka, and pastitsio are also well-represented here, served cooked in ceramic pots. With both dishes, a thick layer of creamy and salty bechamel seasoned with parmesan cheese complements a layer of ground beef in a light tomato sauce, spiced with cinnamon and oregano. Moussaka features potatoes and eggplant, whereas pastitsio is a pasta dish frequently compared to lasagne.
Our table was more partial to the pastitsio, which uses a bucatini-like pasta rather than the typical ziti. The noodles manage to remain al dente, even when baked with all of the wet components, bringing an interesting overall texture to an ordinarily soft and mushy dish.
If you’re still hungry after your Hellenic feast, the restaurant serves a selection of homemade desserts. While the baklava is delicious and is ordered as a dessert with traditional Greek coffee or their Lavazza espresso service, the Kataifi Ekmek, which one of our guests compared to a Mexican Tres Leches cake, is the star of the dessert menu. It is a creamy, vanilla egg custard, spiced with cinnamon, sitting on a bed of shredded phyllo dough, topped with whipped cream and a sweet syrup. Sensational.
1933 N. University Drive, Coral Springs FL
Open Seven Days, Sunday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Saturdays 11:30 a.m. – Midnight.
Happy Hour served from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.