Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tarpon Springs..Going Greek in Florida or Pappas and Potatoes!

Tarpon Springs, Florida. I don't know if you know Tarpon Springs but it is a charming little hamlet just north of Tampa Florida on the gulf coast. Named after Lake Tarpon an inland body of water and settled first in the late 1800's, Tarpon Springs came into the national view after Greek settlers brought the sponge diving industry to the Florida coast. During the 1930's this industry thrived accounting for a major portion of the US sponge production. It was even the subject of a movie " Beneath the 12 Mile Reef" filmed on 1953. However, the film was partially historical at that point. In 1947 a red tide swept through sponge beds practically killing everything in it's path and almost wiping out the sponge industry. A final death blow was dealt it around the same time as synthetic sponges became available and cheaper and drove the natural sponge business out.

Tarpon Springs was and is to this day the largest Greek community in the US. and today has benefited from the residents of the 1950's turning it into a major tourist destination both for the Greek food and the history and tradition of the post sponging industry, and the deep sea fishing industry.

In the late forties savvy Greek fishermen decided to cash in on the one resource they had in abundance, heritage! They recognized that they had culture, food and fishing knowledge that could translate to dollars if marketed correctly.  One such savvy businessman was Michael Louis Pappas, son of Louis Pappas. The Riverside cafe opened in 1925 under the senior Pappas's direction and created what has generally in the USA been accepted and served at Greek restaurants everywhere as "Greek salad". You know lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and black olives in a lemon herb oil based dressing. Believe it or not Pappas is actually credited in the Greek community with creating this style of americanized "Greek Salad"  and it is now served nationwide in Greek restaurants and diners everywhere. In 1952 after his father's heart attack the younger Pappas took over running the family business and grew it into a small dining empire. Pappas's restaurant was so famous that at it's peak it boasted 19 cashiers, 30 cooks and 90 servers and is said to have served 4000 people one Easter Sunday. Pappas did a lot to push his town forward but he also did a lot to change the salad created by his father. He added a variety of veggies, improved the dressing making it distinctive and also added a base of potato salad which made it truly a meal in itself. At one point the restaurant sold 1000 of these salads a day on average.

Pappas closed his Riverside Cafe in 2005 and passed away in 2009. It was bought and reopened and remains open today but word has it it has lost the panache of it's original owner.

My Mother's parents moved from Chicago to Tampa in the early 1950's trading in the big city for a smaller town and frigid winters for Floridian sunshine. My grandmother being the adventurous sort she was and not shying away from new experiences or culinary explorations, and my grandfather enjoying the fishing thing, found Tarpon Springs a nice respite and close getaway from Tampa and the everyday. It was there that they first encountered Pappas and the salad he made famous.
Of course the renown of this salad spread to the Tampa area and for the most part in that part of the state if you order a Greek Salad you are going to get one in the style of Pappas.

So as you can imagine this was the version of Greek salad I grew up eating at home. In fact the first time I had one away from home I was disappointed by the lack of ingredients, and flavor. I have been making this salad for years myself now and I enjoy people's reaction to eating it. it's so rich and full and satisfying.  Of course I have made improvements and changes but it's still along the lines of the original. I made it for a group of friends years ago in Charleston and my friend Autumn, who was among that group, asked me to make it again over  this past Christmas,when we had her and her husband over for dinner. She said she just remembers it being so good. And so it is. So for those of you who want to try a twist on the ordinary Greek Salad, here you go. Give it a try it makes a great one dish party meal with some garlic bread and can pretty much be done in advance so can spend more time with your guests.  Enjoy, Ya'll!

Forrest's "Best Ever" Greek Salad (after the Pappas Riverside Cafe Tradition)


1 large head of Iceberg Lettuce ( or 3 hearts of Romaine trimmed) shredded.
3 cups of Greek potato salad ( recipe follows)
1 red onion diced
1 med cucumber diced into cubes
2 Tomatoes 1 diced and 1 reserved cut into wedges
1 green bell pepper diced
1 can of beets diced
12 small cocktail shrimp cooked and peeled
1 jar Kalamata Olives in juice drained ( reserve juice) from this 1/2 cup diced Kalamata olives reserve rest for garnish
8 radishes slices into discs and reserve 1/2 of the radishes for garnish
4 green onions diced
12 ounces Feta cheese ( 2 crumbled and 2 chopped into squares)
1 8 oz jar greek Salonika peppers drained ( 1/2 chopped the other half reserved as whole
4 anchovy filets diced
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Greek Potato salad:

6 large yellow potato boiled and cut up
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 bunch green onions diced
1/2 cup parsley chopped
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1/4 cup mayo
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oregano
2 tablespoon minced fresh or jarred garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Method for Potato salad: 

Take all ingredients and combine in a bowl
Mix gently and place in the fridge ( best if made the day before) chill well.

Forrest's Best Ever Greek Salad Dressing 

1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup reserved olive juice/oil
1/4 cup regular Greek yogurt or mayo
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
4 tablespoons Dried Oregano
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Place everything but olive oil in blender and while running pour oil slowly in from the top till creamy.

Method for Salad:

Get a large serving platter out

Mound the potato salad in the center of the platter

Place all ingredients from salad list except the reserved green onions, whole olives, feta cubes, tomato wedges, radishes and shrimp in a bowl.

In the bowl dress and mix the salad fixings generously till dressed to your liking ( I like it wet but not dripping)

Carefully cover the potato salad with the dressed salad, mounding it till the potato salad is hidden.

Garnish the salad first with the shrimp, then the tomato wedges around, then sprinkle the feta, olives, radishes. Finnish off with the green onions to give some visual punch.

Serve within 10 mins. And watch them ooh and ahh!! When you serve make sure you dig down and get the potato salad underneath. Serve with my garlic bread from another post!! You'll be a rockstar trust me!!!


  1. Thank you! This place brings back memories and I still go to the Sponge Docks each year I visit my 86 yr old mom(going this weekend!) I'm going to make this and I love that you shared the delicious recipe- thanks!

  2. Thank you! This place brings back memories and I still go to the Sponge Docks each year I visit my 86 yr old mom(going this weekend!) I'm going to make this and I love that you shared the delicious recipe- thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by I hope you enjoy it. And I'm glad that this brought back so many memories for you. That's what I love about blogging connecting to people who have had the same experiences. Stop by again and keep commenting I never know what impression my blog has unless people write something. Happy Holidays and hope to see you stopping by again,

  3. Looking for recipe: fresh crab in a tomato sauce over spaghetti