Ilios chef Fouli Tsatoumas has cooking in her blood like Greece has honey
Her grandparents had three restaurants in Toronto. Her father opened Navarino Bakery on Parc Avenue in 1959 (now owned by a cousin). She ran Café Ilios in Old Montreal for 15 years, a nibblies and bar kind of joint. Now, Tsatoumas’ Ilios has been open two months on lower St-Denis and she brings interesting, healthy fare – the kind she feeds her kids – to an area that has either fast food or high-end dining.
After checking out the shelf of groceries (Greek honey, pasta, herbs, etc.), you can eat at an appealing padded white banquette against a brick wall, or take out fresh or frozen food for home.
Tsatoumas makes eggplant dip, and a tzatziki with yogurt (not the easier sour cream) that she takes the time to drain so it’s thick in the right way. I tried moussaka, an appealingly balanced mix of eggplant, beef and a dense, supple topping of rich mashed potato. A stuffed pepper was fat with rice and a touch of meat, nicely spiced, simpler than most. The pastitsio, like moussaka with noodles, looks kid friendly, as I bet is the spanakopita (spinach pie).
Tsatoumas’ bestseller so far is her giant lima beans, which are surprisingly sweet and good, with some carrots and celery clinging to them in a tomatoey sauce. Her mixed vegetables are a tangy, murky, soft mix of mostly eggplant and zucchini.
Tsatoumas swears she’s the only one in town who makes chocolate-covered baklava, one of about a half-dozen types on display. I tried her traditional baklava, straight-up sweet and syrupy, and while I liked the nut taste of the pistachio turban baklava, I found it a bit flabby. A walnut-honey cake, called karidopita, gets better with age when the honey sets in, she said. It was curiously (and pleasantly) both dry and juicy at the same time, with a cinnamon lilt.
If you want ingredients to make a Greek salad at home, she’s sourced the best Kalamata olives she could find, and her favourite feta, made from 100 percent sheep’s milk by the Greek company Dodoni. When she let me smell Greek oregano that was freshly removed from a bouquet, I was transported to that dry, sunny Mediterranean hillside in my mind, goat bells tinkling in the distance.
Phone ahead of going (though weekday lunches seem stable). I had the misfortune of once showing up for take-out on possibly the first day Tsatoumas took off in two months. She’s working hard, and her effort is a boon to those who live and play in the neighbourhood.
3922 St-Denis; 514-419-9994
Meal for two: $15-$30