The Greeks will have you believe that they invented everything. After all, Ancient Greece is often referred to as the birthplace of Western civilization. Aside from democracy and philosophy, the Ancient Greeks contributed to many inventions we still use today, such as the alarm clock, the thermometer, the odometer and our personal favourite: the souvlaki pita. Did you know that coffee comes from the word “kafeini”, which in Greek means caffeine? True story. Supposedly, Socrates and Plato drank 3 cups of coffee a day to keep their creative juices flowing. While we may not have the factual evidence to back up that last claim, we can assure you that the Greeks know a thing or two about making coffee. In fact, our latest bromance adventure brought us to Melina’s Phyllo Bar, where we got a taste of what it means to live the “Greek Life” (more on this later).
Melina’s Phyllo Bar is named after Greece’s first prominent female politician, Melina Mercouri, as a tribute to strong Greek women. The owner, Joanna Chery, was born to a Haitian father and a Greek mother and grew up in Parc-Extension, an area known for its large Greek community. Joanna has a background in special needs education, having worked with autistic children for several years before becoming an entrepreneur. This is something she continues to do part-time, as she finds it extremely rewarding. In 2012, her passion for coffee and her strong connection to her Greek heritage drove her to open a small cafe-bakery on Parc Avenue, in the Mile-End. Often referred to as a hipster utopia, the Mile-End draws its roots from an influx of different immigrant groups, each having a distinct influence on the area. Rarely can one find such a melting pot of cultures, all within a few city blocks. Need a bagel? Check. How about gnocchi in a box? Neapolitan pizza? A French baguette? A Jewish deli sandwich? Portuguese rotisserie chicken? And the list goes on! You can literally walk within a 2km radius and sample some of the city’s most reputable eats.
With that being said, Melina’s Phyllo Bar fits into this neighborhood perfectly. This small yet quaint location holds a few tables and chairs for its customers to sit and enjoy a full Greek experience. There is a traditional blue and white color scheme throughout the cafe which is reminiscent of the decor commonly seen in the Greek Islands. Several vintage photos of Melina Mercouri are hung along the sitting area and a Greek evil eye charm, also called a mati, is carefully placed above the Saeco espresso machine. In the warmer months, there is a small outdoor terrace, where guests can sit back and observe a variety of people walking up and down Parc Avenue.
Instead of traditional Greek coffee, which is quite similar to Turkish coffee, Joanna uses an Italian roast called Fantini. While Greek purists may disagree with this choice, this is a perfect example of how a new generation of young entrepreneurs are not afraid to mix things up. We wanted to try something new, so we opted for a Greek frappe, which is an iced drink made from instant coffee. Accidentally invented by a Nescafe representative named Dimitris Vankondios in 1957, it has become a hallmark of outdoor Greek coffee culture. Among the other items found on their menu, Melina’s offers four different types of vegetarian phyllo pastries, ranging from their spanokopita (spinach-cheese pie) to their bougatsa (sweet breakfast pastry). All of them were delicious and definitely worth trying.
As we sipped our frappes, we randomly met Nick Drossos, a martial artist and self defense instructor. We were surprised to learn that Nick has a popular Youtube Channel where he regularly discusses self defense techniques. He too was intrigued by our bromance and kindly invited us to join him and his friends outside on the terrace.
“Stick around”, he said. “My friend Spyros should be here any minute with his bouzouki guitar.”
We looked at each other puzzled.
“Buzouki guitar?”, David said.
“Yes! We’re going to play bouzouki music and dance when he gets here.”
“Seriously?” Joey replied.
The funny thing is; Nick wasn’t kidding. Within minutes Spyros showed up and started playing bouzouki music while Nick danced in the middle of Parc Avenue, as people stopped and stared.
“MY NAME IS NICK FROM SANTORINI!!!” he yelled.
“WELCOME TO THE GREEK LIFE!!!”
We both sat there in amazement. This had to be one of the most epic bromance adventures we ever experienced! As we enjoyed the show and pretended to sing along to the bouzouki songs, one of Nick’s friends asked us if we were Greek. We then proceeded to tell him that we were Italian, to which he replied: “Una faccia, una razza” (One face, one race). This expression is commonly used between Greeks and Italians to describe our long lasting relationship, which dates back to the Greco-Roman era. When we reflect on the events of that afternoon, we realize that this relationship is still very present between both of our cultures. Instead of fighting over who makes the best olive oil, we bonded over coffee and music. Pretty soon all of Parc Avenue was brimming with excitement so that all could join in on the fun. We guess you had to be there to fully understand what we’re talking about; but for those of you who missed it, you can watch the video below to see for yourselves!
David & Joey