ARE you one of those people who loves places no one else can find? "It's down an alley, behind a row of bins, then take the invisible glass elevator to the Earth's core."
If so, Mezedakia might be for you.
Here's what you do: head inside Oakleigh Market, walk up the ramp, cross the car park and in the back right-hand corner, there's a door that looks like it might lead to a stairwell. Bingo! You've struck Greek gold.
The room was a pensioners' club before Maria Krontiris (with daughter Ioanna) took it over last year. It's a humble space with windows spanning one side, giving a bird's-eye view of the comings and goings of Oakleigh station and the strip of Greek shops below.
Krontiris (who was born in Kalamata) landed in Oakleigh 27 years ago and her working life since then can be plotted in one square of the Melway.
She worked at Nikos Quality Cakes, then briefly in Eaton Mall across the way, and now, Mezedakia, a sweet restaurant that could just as easily be called "Maria's Kitchen" because she serves what she would feed you at home. Nothing is too much trouble and her wish that you have a good time and enjoy her cooking is palpable.
You can choose something already made — maybe tomatoey orzo pasta with chunks of browned, braised beef (or sometimes lamb or goat), flavoured with oregano, cinnamon and cloves. The pasta is cooked in the juices of the meat, so the flavours permeate the whole dish.
Or Krontiris will happily whip you up something from scratch, often using ingredients from her garden. Oregano, parsley, celery, capsicum and, at the moment, broad beans and chicory (salted, with lemon) might be on her verbal menu.
Kick off with saganaki, a chunky triangle of kefalograviera cheese fried until golden and served with lemon. Next up, a plate-load of sliced button mushrooms, oregano, salt and pepper meshing deliciously with the mushroom juices.
Roast potatoes — billed as "a few" — turn out to be a mound of chips, all uneven shapes, beautifully coloured and cooked in olive oil (all the cooking here is with olive oil) and dusted with oregano, salt and pepper. It's like chips you might make at home.
Calamari curls are coated in flour and then pan-fried until the inside is tender, the outside crunchy, balanced by a Greek salad with chunky onion rings, spring onion, cucumber (peeled), firm feta and (oddly) average olives.
Kids are welcomed with open arms, literally — they are likely to be picked up, cuddled, fussed over and made to feel at home.
And if you roll up on Thursday nights, there's live laika music — rebetiko on Saturday — and probably a bunch of diners dancing (Greek dancing lessons are starting on Sundays soon).
A tip: if Krontiris has made the traditional kourabiedes — those buttery, crescent-shaped almond biscuits coated with icing sugar — try them. I ate four in the car on the way home.
Where Level 1, 15-18 Port-man Street (above Oakleigh Mar-ket),
Oakleigh, 9569 7665
Prices Entrees, $8-$15;
Open Wed-Thurs and Sun,
- 03 9569 7665
- Cuisine - Greek
- Prices - E $18-$15; M $15-$18
- Opening Hours - Wed-Thurs and Sun 9am-10pm; Fri-Sat 9am-11pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau