Peter Bellas’s family is from Rihea, a mountain village in the Peloponnese where spanakopita is not just quotidian food but a delicacy. Bellas’s version pays homage to his parents: “I want it to be beautiful,” he says with pride.
Spanakopita’s home, a few blocks from James Street, is split into two. One side is counter and kitchen, the other a dining space of Besser block walls, grey tables, linoleum floor and hard bench seats, with yellow toilet door at one end and car park exit at the other. Not exactly the place to linger, it’s a functional space to throw down a pite (pie) or two and split.
It’s the spanakopita has lured us, and Bellas’s version differs wildly from the usual. The village-style phyllo pastry is thicker and shatters into glorious shards of autumn-leaf crunch. “It’s pretty close to how Mum made it,” says Bellas. It’s made every morning and is given its final stretch over cotton cloth by Bellas’s cousin Kathy, “the spanakopita legend.” The herbaceous filling has a hint of feta, a thicket of spinach from Bellas’s dad’s suburban plot, dill and endive, which is similar to ‘horta’, a bitter leaf growing wild in Rihea.
Pites come in three other varieties, by the slice ($8) or whole ($30): tiropita with feta and mizithra (goat’s cheese); kasseropita with kasseri (sheep’s cheese); and prasokolokithopita, stuffed with a bang-on mix of leek, roast pumpkin and garlic. Bellas likes to serve pides fresh, so call ahead and he’ll bake to order.
Desserts ($4.50) have been catapulted from old-world into new; baklava triangles are tarted up with chocolate and fig, while citrusy galaktoboureko (custard pie) comes in individual tarts that Bellas says are “like a poem”. They are – we’d return for a galaktoboureko alone.
Spanakopita offers a slice of Bellas family tradition from a village where a pastry snack is elevated to food for the gods.