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The 2004 Olympics Kosher Restaurant in Athens Wins Gold Medal with Customers

August 9, 2004
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To many Athenians, a kosher restaurant is an odd site — but, if early returns are any indication, a welcome one as well. Since opening Aug. 1 in advance of this month’s Olympic Games, the Kol Tuv restaurant has done a brisk business: Its varied menu — from Greek food like moussaka to Middle Eastern dishes such as humus to traditional Greek Jewish cuisine such as a haminados, an oven-baked egg dish — has attracted Jews and non-Jews alike. “The atmosphere of the restaurant and the decor are amazing,” said Liana Zervou, a Greek Christian customer. “I was surprised by the tasty traditional Greek Jewish dishes, and I called one of my Jewish friends right away to tell them how great it is.”

The air-conditioned restaurant features brick walls and wooden tables, with a few outdoor tables nearby.

There’s also a long wooden bar where beer, wine and coffee drinks are served.

The Glatt kosher meat restaurant is the brainchild of the l! ocal Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, Mendel Hendel, who opened it for the Games with help from Chabad and the Athens Jewish community.

The restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, also prepares boxed lunches and pre-cooked Sabbath meals — and doubles as an information center for tourists.

The dishes at Kol Tuv, operated by Elisa Kamonto and Joseph Varouh, who run a catering business in Athens, are influenced by traditional Sephardi Jewish cooking.

Items on the menu include pastelikos, ground-meat pies, from Varouh’s family recipe book, and tazikos, a vanilla-flavored almond dessert that was handed down from Kamonto’s grandmother.

It’s believed to be the first time a kosher restaurant has opened in Greece since World War II, when more than 90 percent of the Jewish community died in the Holocaust.

The community, which numbers some 5,000 people, is very assimilated, and Hendel himself — with his traditional beard — is something of a curiosity for many Gree! ks.

Hendel is unsure whether the restaurant will remain open after the Games close at the end of the month, but says he may be tempted to keep it running.

Alon Biniaminov, an Israeli businessman, brought his Greek partner to the restaurant to introduce him to Jewish food.

Says Biniaminov: “He especially liked the falafel with the humus. But what really surprised him was to learn that the delicious souvlaki was kosher.”

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