On Crete hospitality experts are thrilled the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic is being systematically lifted. All over the island tavernas and restaurants have reopened their doors now, while hotels and resorts anticipate their own tourist season 2020 salvation in the weeks to come. The good news for locals and visitors is that the flawless traditions of Crete have once again proved indomitable.
This weekend we paid a visit to Chef Grigoris at Το μουρέλο του Λαδωμένου, or “The Young Olive Tree of Ladomenos,” since we’ve been dying for his traditional Cretan cuisine these past weeks of lockdown. Grigoris, like everyone else in business on Crete, has been uncertain of the future on account of the unprecedented events. The small taverna in ancient Galatas is a true gem of the island, and not only because of Grigoris’ stellar gastronomy. Galatas, for 5,000 years, has been a center of feasting. But this is another story.
“Love of liberty, the refusal to accept your soul’s enslavement, not even in exchange for paradise; stalwart games over and above love and pain, over and above death; smashing even the most sacrosant of the molds when they are unable to contain you any longer – these are the great cries of Crete. (Report to Greco)” ― Nikos Kazantzakis
Seeing my talented friend, and my pal, his father-in-law Markos Ladomenos, gives me new hope. These great people are archetypes, even though they would never even perceive this. Galatas, like a hundred other similar villages, is a “curative” for anyone who’s been under the stress of imposed pandemic restrictions. Here in Heraklion, even though the people have all been supportive of one another, the COVID-19 mess has taken a toll. People, even on super friendly Crete, just need a break. And the village are where Cretans go to rejuvenate their amazing spirits.
“Grigoris, Mihaela wants the caprico. Do you have?” I asked my friend over the phone before we drove on Saturday. “No, I am so sorry Phil. It takes hours to prepare and we are not sure how many will come today,” he replied. For those culinary aficionados out there interested, Cretan “caprico”, is traditional slow-roasted pork in a wooden oven, made with special (secret in Grigoris’ case) Cretan herbs, that is really OUT OF THIS WORLD good.
To Mourelo is, in fact, famous for just this dish, and Galatas has a festival that revolves around the dish. Again, that’s another story of the traditions of Crete. Looking at the reviews of the tavern, the locals who’ve visited seem to show the value Grigoris and his family try to project. Greeks are exceptional at breaking things down to their essence. Elektra, on TripAdvisor calls the tavern “Hidden Gold”, and leaves the following review:
“Expect delicious food made with very good ingredients, great service, a nice atmosphere, a clean environment…. excellent everything. Thank you! You are passionate!”
And there it is, in the proverbial nutshell. The passion for excellence we always look for when we go out or travel.
What we were interested in on Saturday was dining with the super friends of Galatas. We ended up dining on perfectly cooked special pork steaks, Grigoris’ unmatched fava, and Horta, and some asparagus my wife Mihaela “dared” him to prepare better than she could. Another story too, but a small competition exists between her and Grigoris over Mousaka. Anyhow, once again Grigoris shined even preparing “bring your own vegetables” (BYOV?) surprises. Paul Jules, below, took time off from playing with the dogs and cats of Galatas, to present the surprise asparagus.
Under a bright brilliant sky, sampling a flawless salad, enjoying perfect local wine, and a bit of raki with Markos, the retired Colonel Giorgos Kostakis, and the kind-hearted Nikos Chronakis rounded off another perfect day in the Cretan paradise for me. As always, we sewed a few mini revolutions, talked the religious talk of old guys, and I tried once again to get Markos to show me the hidden Minoan gold we kid about.
You see, the village of Galatas sits in the shadow of a magnificent Minoan palace only recently excavated by the famous archaeologists Dr. George Rethymniotakis. The island still holds so many amazing secrets. Like this little taverna, more or less in the middle of nowhere, all over this extraordinary place apart, the wonders (human, animal, rock, or liquid) are truly endless.
Speaking of Crete treasures, I feel for all my friends here on Crete. The most generous people in the world, with so much wonder to share, they all carry on underneath the cloud of unknowing the pandemic has brought. But, I know, if the sun shines tomorrow it will shine brightest of this island paradise where filoxenia can never die. Later this summer, I know the world will long for the Cretan way of life, and they will come.
To Mourelo – Το μουρέλο του Λαδωμένου – is one of the highest-rated traditional taverns anywhere in Greece. Located on the main road connecting Arkalochori and world-famous Voni, the quant family restaurant is easy to find. Call 698 393 0311 to reserve a table