I kid you not – this evening (July 20, 2014) I ventured to a Greek restaurant on the Gulf Coast of Florida (near, but not in) Tarpon Springs, where I’ve spent the last few weeks.
With a small group of friends, some non-Greeks, who were eager to try ouzo, I figured a bottle was in order for the table, to complement the array of mezedes that we ordered.
“What type of ouzo do you have?” I asked the waitress. “The traditional kind,” she replied. “No, I mean, what BRAND,” I clarified, smiling. “Oh, I think we only have one kind,” she answered.
“That fine,” I continued. “If you had more than one brand, I might have chosen one over the other – but I’m sure what you have is fine.” I mean, here in the states, I’ll take Barbayanni or Tirnavou in a second, be perfectly happy with Plomari, and even settle for “12″ in a pinch, but as of tonight, I have learned not to speak to soon – for this particular restaurant’s one-and-only brand was Athena which is MADE (yes, that means PRODUCED) in….brace yourself…Minnesota.
No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. No need to squint to try and make out the words. Not Montemvasia, not Messolonghi – not even Mykonos, and certainly not Mytilene. MINNESOTA – as in, the North Star State – bordered on the West by the Dakotas, on the East by Wisconsin, on the South by Iowa, and on the North by Canada. Yes, Minnesota – the land of 10,000 lakes.
You’ll notice the label says “Greek-style specialty liqueur” – sort of like “an Italian-style” suit made in Banglandesh.
And lest you think all my reviews are positive (because most have been to this point), think again. You might want to give this ouzo a whirl “yia plaka – for a goof” like trying scrapple if you find yourself in a diner in Central PA, but you might want to think twice before buying it by the case.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not horrible – it’s even drinkable – heck, we finished most of the bottle. But the anise flavor is overpowering and it is a bit too syrupy for my taste. But in a pinch, it will suffice.
When there are other brands to choose from, you might want to consider them instead. But when it’s the only show in town – as was the case in this particular restaurant tonight – it will do just fine. Especially for unsuspecting neophytes to Greek cuisine, who also think it’s perfectly fine for taramosalata to be the same color as cotton candy.