One recent January night on the Danforth, the Vicarious Travel Society found itself out on the sidewalk, leaving a restaurant and the tractor beam of Athens Pastries (509 Danforth) pulled us in as it has so many times before.
Sensibly open until midnight, a reliable purveyor of the best bougatsa I’ve had outside of Greece (and besting many genuine Greek pies as well), the VTS frequently concludes its meetings at Athens if we’re anywhere close to the East End. They do a small selection of phyllo pies, loukoumades, hot drinks including Greek coffee, and nothing else. It’s daringly simple and a model that works: they do basically one thing here, but they do it absolutely right. The phyllo is made in house and there’s a lot of skill, care and consistency in the product.
The room is pleasant enough: current-looking in a way many traditional Torontonian Greek coffee shops are not, those that were seemingly built up around the inhabitants. The chairs are hard: sturdy and comfortable enough, but not so comfortable as to encourage a lengthy discussion on the economy of modern Greece.
We decided to live dangerously and got a slice of both the bougatsa AND the galaktobourekia, which unbelievably we had never tried before. The bougatsa is just that hypnotic: every bit as good as the slices I ate every morning many years ago marooned in Iraklion on the island of Crete while waiting a few days for a boat to Naxos. Once, during Taste of The Danforth I was just about to bite into a slice when I noticed a man walking toward me, walking fast, with a purpose. He stopped, looked searchingly into my eyes, and demanded “where did you get that bougatsa?”
Both are variations on a theme, i.e. custard baked between layers of homemade phyllo pastry. Bougatsa has a semolina based filling, galaktobourekia a thicker layer of milk based custard and a hard sweet glaze on top of the phyllo. Both are deeply satisfying in their own way, and “always fresh” at Athens is completely literal…the steady stream of traffic all day ensures that the hunk of whatever you just bought was hacked off a pie that hasn’t been out of the oven more than 15 minutes, tops. At the point of delivery (self-service, get in line please) the question will be asked: “do you want sugar and cinnamon on top of the bougatsa?” The correct answer is yes.
The bottom is just crisp enough to stop individual pieces (or the whole main piece if you haven’t asked them to cut it up) from flopping. Your teeth descend through several perfectly dry and crunchy layers to meet the warm filling within. And I’m no fan of loukoumades, but the loukoumades made at Athens are the timbits of the gods…slightly crisp exterior, honey saturated interior, a judicious dusting of cinnamon on top. I once had to bring a dozen of them to the bedside of someone at Toronto East General Hospital who had just had major orthopedic surgery: they’re that important to some people.
The savoury pies also make an excellent snack or meal. We didn’t have any on this particular outing, but I can say from repeated experience that the kreatopita (meat pie), spanakopita and tiropita are all more than up to snuff, with good quality, distinctive tasting fillings and most importantly, a nearly ideal ratio of phyllo to insides. I will now admit publicly that I have made trips to the East End on the slimmest of pretexts, with only one real, hidden agenda: to take my mouth on a quick trip to Greece.
Somehow, no matter how full you are, there’s always room for Athens Pastries.
Athens Pastries – slices of Greek phyllo pies about $3.50 each…and, bonus…you can buy whole pies, unbaked, for $10.00! Ideal for parties.