Our first day at Old Agios Athanasios, Pella was full, and so did we intend for the second one to be! The weather worried us a bit, but it did not put us in a bad mood, since the nature of the area was very beautiful, even with clouds; it had another charm…
Read the first part of our article based in Old Agios Athanasios:
In the second part of our travel article based in Old Agios Athanasios we start the day with breakfast at the Metohi Inn, drink coffee at the tavern of the Naoumidis brothers in Agios Panteleimonas and visit their processing unit to learn everything about the innovative pepper products that they prepare, eat sweets at the Evora Café-Restaurant and take a walk to the nearby waterfalls of Panagitsa, and return to Agios Panteleimonas to end the day with a wonderful meal at the award-winning restaurant Naoumidis.
For the coldest days of autumn and winter, the Metohi Inn of Mr. Nektarios Voliotis and Mrs. Ioanna Arseniou has a very nicely decorated indoor space, made of wood and stone, with a homely feel and a fireplace, where one can drink his coffee and have his breakfast, but also enjoy his drink later. But we also like the cloudy weather, so we sat again in the courtyard of the guesthouse and prepared for the day that would follow.
We ate our breakfast, drank our coffee and started for our first destination: the tavern of the Naoumidis brothers in Agios Panteleimonas. Agios Panteleimonas is a settlement built at the foot of Mount Kaimaktsalan, on the shores of Lake Vegoritida. So you can imagine what a beautiful environment we would be in! It is about 26 km from Old Agios Athanasios, so it would take us half an hour to get there.
The tavern-grocery Naoumidis, as well as the nearby award-winning restaurant Naoumidis, where we would dine in the evening, are located on the main road that passes by the lake. Naoumidis tavern has a very elegant interior, with stone and wood painted in shades of green. It serves local, exquisite delicacies, made with traditional recipes, along with a modern twist, while one can also try products based on Florina peppers from the processing unit of the Naoumidis family. The delicacies are accompanied by -what else? – quality wine of the region.
What excited us even more, however, was the outdoor area of the tavern, which is literally on the lake! There was waiting for us Mr. Angelos Naoumidis, one of the chefs of the family, who spoke to us with love about their family business that includes the tavern, restaurant and processing unit of Florina peppers where we would go together after our coffee and our nice conversation.
Mr. Angelos told us about their story, which begins with the grandparents, and continues with their pioneering parents, who set up the first restaurant in Western Macedonia with a menu based on local dishes. The younger generation consists of four brothers, who continue the family business with their mother.
Very important for their development were the childhood experiences they had from the restaurant; inevitably, their professional orientation turned to gastronomy and communication with people. In addition to their parents’ restaurant, in 1983 they opened their second restaurant. The Naoumidis family believes that in order to attract people to a remote area, you have to offer something special, cook properly, respect the tradition, connect the visitor gastronomically with the history of the place.
Mr. Angelos told us that he entered the kitchen from a very young age and that he used to observe the customers when they tasted the food, in order to understand from their expressions how he would make them happier. In this way he was slowly improving.
For the Naoumidis family, gastronomy is not something that a chef develops on his own; it is a composition of tradition with the talent of a cook. And despite the fact that Greece has suffered historically, there has always been the festive table, from which we can today get inspiration. A cook is someone who has cooked a recipe over and over again with love and passion, as mom and grandma do. By making the same food over and over again, the cook improves and achieves harmony in his creation. He must be calm and humble.
We asked Mr. Angelos about the processing unit that we would visit later and he told us that initially they had a garden, a field, which they acquired in 1983 together with the second restaurant; in the morning they worked there and at noon they brought the vegetables to the restaurant to cook. Thus, they cooked seasonally based on what nature offered them, fish, game meat, wild duck from the lake, wild mushrooms, peppers…
As Florinians they had a love for peppers and planted more than other vegetables. When there was a surplus in the restaurant, they did not want to sell them fresh, because it was the result of hard work and love. Therefore, they started making some jars with a very old recipe, with vinegar and must; the grape must was used to soften the very strong Xinomavro vinegar that the area has. Having collected many jars, the idea came to them to go on the market.
Mr. Angelos’s brother, Mr. Petros Naoumidis, a cook and agronomist, is responsible for the processing unit. Mr. Petros stressed that everything that his brother told us about gastronomy also applies to the field of peppers. Their pepper has a great gastronomic culture behind it. It comes from a seed that is passed down from generation to generation, a unique variety among thousands.
In addition to the variety, cultivation and garden practices are important, which differ from the industrial practices applied elsewhere. No machine is used, the pepper is planted by hand. There is of course the special microclimate of the area, which favors the cultivation of peppers. The Naoumidis family not only cultivates organically, but also protects a seed from being lost; it does the same for cultivation practices.
After talking for a long time with the Naoumidis brothers, who had a bunch of interesting stuff to tell us, they invited us to visit the Florina pepper processing unit. We warmly thank them for the rich conversation and the unique experience!
The peppers are picked from the field by hand and come to the processing unit for sorting. Then they move on to the next stage, in which various ways of cooking are done. For example, some are grilled all night, others are baked and turned into pepper, there are 4-5 different cooking lines, so to speak. Grilling takes place at night; the processing unit does not close, it operates 24 hours/day!
After each treatment, the peppers go to the warehouse, where the labels are placed on the jars. Entering the building, a fantastic smell flooded us, which represented everything that had been told to us. The jars then go down to the two cellars of the building to rest; this is a very important stage. The goal is to get the pepper as quickly as possible from the field to the basement. The woods used in the warehouse and in the cellar are all Greek, from Black Pine.
Mr. Petros explained to us that the secret of cultivation is that the recipe is made in the field: the first pepper is unripe green, then it is ripe green, the same pepper turns red – every fortnight the taste changes.
It was all really fantastic! Leaving, we could not miss the field of the Naoumidis family, which is full of peppers. Mr. Petros had told us that the peppers are watered with drinking water and all the procedures are done in the traditional way. In fact, it was time to pick the peppers by hand. Green, scattered with red drips, the field was a painting!
It was still early in the afternoon and there was a place we definitely wanted to go to, the Evora Café-Restaurant, above the village of Panagitsa. We were told that it has a great view and that it serves delicious pancakes, so as you can understand the decision was one way!
Panagitsa is located on Mount Kaimaktsalan, at an altitude of 736 m. And the area of Evora -from which the café-restaurant took its name- is even higher at 1030 m. It was starting to rain but we were not discouraged, we made a distance of half an hour by car from Agios Panteleimonas where we were, put on our hoods and went out into the beautiful nature.
The green area of Evora has three artificial lakes, which are harmoniously integrated into the natural landscape. We saw up close the third lake, the one next to the café, with its ducks and geese swimming in the clear waters.
As we have already said, the weather does not scare us and there was no way we could lose the incredible calmness and the shocking view of the outdoor tables of Evora. We sat down, ordered our coffees and started a very interesting conversation with Mrs. Stavroula Parthenopoulou, who welcomed us to her business.
Mrs. Parthenopoulou explained to us the usefulness of artificial lakes: each lake has a hydroelectric station that produces electricity that is sold to Greek Public Power Corporation. Also, a percentage is deducted from the residents’ accounts in return. To undertake this project they have set up a company. In addition to this function, the lakes are also used for irrigation, to irrigate the fields of the area.
The restaurant of Evora is open only for events, weddings, baptisms, which we are sure will be wonderful next to this amazing view! Apart from the tourist part with the café and the restaurant, for 2-3 years now they are also engaged in the processing of the products produced by their place, making jams, spoon sweets, some without sugar, dried fruits without sugar, which Mrs. Parthenopoulou offered us to try. Thank you!
We drank our coffees, ate our really delicious pancakes, and now what? A short hike for digestion, to the nearby small waterfalls! The distance was very short and it is a real pity to lose this hidden gem… So, if you are in Evora do not forget to go to the small waterfalls!
The sky was getting darker and we were heading to our guesthouse in Old Agios Athanasios, just 20 minutes away. We got a little cold, so we had to sit for a while to regain our strength and then we would get ready for our night out for dinner.
When we arrived in Metohi Inn it was starting to rain. Our furry friend had taken refuge on the steps of our maisonette, to protect himself from the rain. We knew exactly what suited this situation: a warm, enjoyable soak in the hydromassage tub!
After the complete relaxation in the hot hydromassage tub, we were looking forward to try the dishes of Naoumidis restaurant about which its chef Mr. Angelos Naoumidis had spoken to us in the morning. Mrs. Ioanna of Metohi Inn had also told us to go to Agios Panteleimonas before dinner to take a walk on a beautiful pier under the restaurant. So, just before dark we reached the village and saw the big pier. It was very charming, in the turbulent waters of the lake – it was a very windy day. We went up and took our photos!
Having enjoyed the wonderful lake, we headed to the Greek Cuisine Award-winning restaurant Naoumidis. We chose to sit at the tables outside, to have a full view of the water landscape.
During our morning meeting with Mr. Angelos Naoumidis, we were told that at some point in their restaurant, little by little, they began to use the products of the lake, following at the same time the current cuisine. So the fish stepped on French bases, always keeping in mind that the material undergoes the least modification by the cook. The products, from ancient times when it was needed until today, which is a trend, all come from the place, up close. The mother of the Naoumidis brothers established a creative cuisine, without forgetting to achieve a perfect taste with the very simple local products; they maintain this philosophy to this day, and we have seen it in their dishes.
The cuisine that the Naoumidis family represents, as Mr. Angelos told us, is Balkan, based on tradition, with influences from neighboring countries, since their place is acritic. All over the world, in the remote areas, there is a formatting of recipes, a culmination. For local gastronomy to assimilate an element from another culture, it must be something special, shocking.
The menu of the restaurant is very rich, with traditional appetizers, fine cheeses, salads, fish, local free-range meats, but also fantastic dishes of the day such as crab spaghetti with fresh handmade linguine, lobster with orzo and sushi rolls with lobster, octopus and crayfish. We made our choices and were enchanted by the local flavors that were beautifully combined with a modern approach.
It got dark and we will say goodbye to you once again, until our next article, which will be dedicated to Florina, with a visit to the Holy Monastery of Agios Markos, the city of Florina with its museums, but also the award-winning Kontosoros restaurant in Xino Nero, Florina. See you again!
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