Take Panagiotis Kollokas, one of the family members that own and operate Taverna Kollokas, a restaurant tucked into the tiny hillside village of Katouna, just a few miles south of Lefkada. My brother, who along with his family, and the family of a close friend from college, together rented a villa on Lefkada a few years ago. They liked Kollokas enough to have at least 2 or 3 meals there.
So I climbed the steep road about a mile off the main road to see why they enjoyed Kollokas so much. With a bottle of wine in hand, intending to share with the family and locals, I wander into the kitchen first and then meet Panagiotis (Panos), who sets me down at a nice table outside. The stone building holds a modest indoor space, but in Greece, it’s all about dining alfresco.
Panos opens the bottle and pours the wine into a couple basic rocks-style or water glasses. I notice a couple men sitting at a table just finishing their meal and wine, and I make conversation and offer them a couple glasses of wine.
I pour a glass for Pano’s dad who tends the outdoor grill tucked into a small room with an open door. He grills pork, sausages, lamb and a host of tasty treats and hand delivers to customers sitting under the awning or cozy tables surrounding the town square.
Panos did not work at the family restaurant when Jonathan was last here. He studied optometry in Athens and worked for an optical store in Athens. Married with a son, his wife also is an optician and works at the optical store in Lefkada. They returned to Katouna to help with the family business.
Panos mother smiles has a hearty laugh and is giddy and playful when I wander the restaurant taking pictures and looking for takers for the wine.
Soon the bottle is empty and Panos sits with me, brings me a couple dishes of local Lefkada cuisine and opens a different bottle of Lefkadan white and we sit, telling stories and together polish the wine, I take more photos.
As the evening winds on, Panos mom takes off on her scooter while dad cleans tables. Soon, I realize we are the last people in the restaurant. Panos offers to give me a ride back to my hotel. With my DSLR camera in one hand, I sit on his little scooter and grab a handle next to the seat and we zoom off.
I realize that he may have had as much to drink as I have, and it’s dark. My two rules for travel are never riding the bike at night, and never drive after drinking. Now I’m on the back of this scooter with a Greek driver at the handlebars, and I’ve barely got a grip on the scooter and my camera.
On the way to the hotel, Panos asks me if I’d like to come to his home, and have raki, a distilled spirit usually made from grape must like grappa and continue the conversation. “Why not?” I say, and when we arrive at his home just a kilometer down the road, suggest we drink glasses of Retsina, a wine resinated with pine, and has a history that stretches back for more than a thousand years in the area.
Shortly after, Panos’ wife shows up with their 4-year-old son and some friends. It’s nearly 3AM, so soon after we say goodbyes and we hop back on the scooter and I’m back in my comfortable bed at Hotel Konaki.
A late night. Okay, I think I get why Jonathan family and friends enjoyed so many meals at Kollokas.