At first glance, Yoleni’s looks like an Athenian grocery store of a bygone era. You can taste cold cuts, cheeses and halvah before you buy; the feta is sold by the slice from a large slab preserved in salty brine; and there is a bakery and a fruit and vegetable section. But walk a few steps farther in, and you’ll realize this multi-floor food emporium in Kolonaki, an upscale neighborhood of Athens, is all about showcasing the gems of Greek gastronomy.
“I was thrilled every time I found a new product hidden in a tiny corner of Greece, in a village where an old granny would tell the secrets of a recipe or a hidden treasured ingredient,” said Nikolaos Pipas who, together with Dorotheos Chatziioannou, opened Yoleni’s in 2016. “We wanted to find all those treasures for Yoleni’s, to show people the real Greek cuisine.”
During a recent visit, a dining companion and I started at the downstairs wine bar. With over 30 types of local wine available by the glass (and more by the bottle) the choices overwhelm, but Chara Dionysopoulou, Yoleni’s authority on Greek wine, is there to help. She recommended Alfa Estate’s fruity sauvignon blanc from northern Greece and a barrel-aged vidiano from Douloufakis Wineries on the island of Crete.
Both paired well with generous portions of cheese — smoked metsovone and aged Cretan graviera — served with tomato-apple chutney and house-made sourdough.
Up on the main floor an informal restaurant with a retractable roof offers two menus. One, called Topos, or place of origin in Greek, was created by Yoleni’s to revive various grandmothers’ lost recipes. Grilled sardines wrapped in vine leaves were piquant and lemony with a hint of thyme and garlic. From the second menu, we chose the cheese and egg pita, a traditional Greek pie, from Roúmeli (central Greece); the pie was unlike many of its other filo-dough counterparts: its crust was thin and crisp but not at all overpowered by its filling.
Up a floor is a meat lover paradise: a butcher shop shares the space with a steakhouse; cuts are courtesy of the shop, Carnicero Meat & Delicatessen, but even a vegetarian like me won’t go hungry. Their roasted root vegetables served with avocado-yogurt sauce were sweet on the inside, crisp on the outside and just the right amount of smoky.
For dessert we returned to the downstairs dining space to try the chocolate and nuts pita, an earthy, slightly bitter combination of dark chocolate, roasted hazelnuts and Aegina pistachio spread. Other sweets are made by Dina Nikolaou, a renowned Greek chef. Her delicate rose-petal icing sponge cake is infused with rosewater she prepares herself. With summer almost in full swing, it went perfectly with a freddo espresso, a cold, frothy favorite of Athenians, from a coffee shop on the same level.
But Yoleni’s treasures don’t end there. Up on the second floor is a children’s area where, for a small fee, kids can play while adults enjoy their meal or even go shopping in the neighborhood. Cooking classes that teach old, forgotten recipes are on the third floor, as is an olive oil bar — a tasting experience that makes for another one of Yoleni’s undeniable gems.
Yoleni’s, 9 Solonos Street; yolenis.com. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is 50 euros (about $60).