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Celebrate Greece in Tarpon Springs

FLORIDA TOWN OFFERS THE BEST OF GREEK CULTURE + FOOD

Article by Grady McGill

Photography by Grady McGill

Feeling the need to travel? How about to Greece? So are we! Unfortunately, that’s not possible now, but a visit to Tarpon Springs, Florida, is the next best thing—and you don’t need a passport or COVID-19 test!  

Come to Tarpon Springs, a short drive from both Tampa and Clearwater, and you will get that Greek fix your taste buds are craving. You won’t be disappointed! Tarpon Springs is nothing but Greek throughout the city. You feel like you are visiting Greece, and there’s a reason: Tarpon Springs has the largest number of Greeks in the country.

Sponge Diving

The relationship with Greece and Tarpon Springs dates back to the late 1800s when a sponge warehouse was built, and in 1905, two Greek sponge divers arrived. Not long after, more than 500 Greek men moved to this Gulf town and brought their culture, religion, traditions and food recipes with them. Many of the town’s buildings could be transported to Santorini and you wouldn’t know the difference.

Just like in the early century, sponge divers go out on boats and dive for sponges or use long poles with hooks to bring up the sponges, which are then dried and sold in the many boutiques. If you want to see it happen, take one of the many one-hour boat rides that will give you a tour of the area and a demonstration with a real diver. These cruises tend to be about $10. 

The real fun of Tarpon Springs (besides eating) is wandering around the town, looking at the many statues and historical plaques, and visiting the various shops. Our favorite shop was the Agora Food Market, and it was actually more like a small supermarket with Greek olive oil, canned fish, cheese, meats, pastas and, of course, wine. We chose two bottles that were suggested by the clerk: Apella and Nemea. Apella is a light red while the Apella is a hearty red that is perfect for lamb (or anything else, frankly!).

We also suggest visiting the Tarpon Springs Aquarium; Five Branches Brewing Company, which is currently closed to guests, but sells in beer in growlers or glass bottles; and dropping in at a variety of the touristy shops to buy souvenirs, handmade soaps and, of course, sponges.

Food, Glorious (Greek) Food!

All of this, of course, is to build up an appetite for an authentic lunch of dinner, followed by pastry.

Hellas is one of the best Greek restaurants in Tarpon Springs. For starters, I had lamb riblets, and they sizzled with Mediterranean flavors of lemon, olive oil and rosemary. For the entree, I tried the Greek-style shrimp with rice, green beans and feta cheese. I was amazed at how good the shrimp was, and you will not leave disappointed. The real fun was was when we ordered the Saganaki: feta cheese on a very hot skillet. The waiter poured some alcohol over it and lit it. As the flames rose up, the server yelled, “Everybody say 'opa!'” There is also a bakery inside the restaurant with a big selection of pastries. You name it, they have it all. In fact, we couldn’t even name each of the pastries, but they all looked delicious.

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We did try another pastry shop, A Taste of Greece, for our sweet tooth fixation. I ordered the flogeres, which is similar to baklava but is rolled up like an egg roll. There was lots of sweet and sticky honey involved but so worth it. I also ordered a frappe, an iced coffee drink that I had in Olympia, Greece, and order it whenever I see it. Be sure to to ask for milk and a little sugar will also help. No, this is not your typical Starbucks drink you might be thinking about and, in fact, the Greeks make it much better. 

We visited Tarpon Springs in July and felt very safe. Visitors and store personnel wore masks, and large bottles of hand sanitizers were up front in every place we visited. After a day in Tarpon Springs, you will go home yelling “Opa!”

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