I wrote the following piece in 2008, when I was living in Germany with Bill. I loved visiting a little Greek restaurant called Agais in the town close to where we lived. We never knew the proprietor’s name, but referred to him as The Mad Scientist. I was just missing that place right now and decided I’d better preserve my memories of it here on my travel blog…
Our favorite neighborhood haunt…
Sep 17, 2008
One thing my husband Bill and I have noticed since moving to Germany exactly one year ago today, is that there are a huge number of Greek restaurants. When we lived stateside, we never ate Greek food, aside from the occasional fast food gyro. Here in Germany, I can think of at least four Greek restaurants within ten miles of our house. All of them are run by Greek natives, who serve fabulous Greek dishes with much fanfare. Since we’ve been in Germany, I have learned to love t’zatziki, a wonderful sauce made with yogurt and cucumbers. I have never liked yogurt much, but since moving to Germany, I have learned to love it with gyros. Sometimes, I actually get a craving for it, which means Bill has to take me out to our favorite Greek place.
One night last fall, when neither Bill nor I felt like cooking, we decided to go out to dinner. The first place we tried was the Buffalo Bill Saloon, which is an American Old West restaurant located very close to where we live. But when we walked into the place, it was packed! We weren’t in the mood for a crowd, so I suggested we try the little Greek place in next town, Entringen. Entringen is about two kilometers from Pfaffingen and we have to drive through it every time we want to go to Stuttgart. I had easily noticed Agais, the little Greek place, because it’s on the main drag. Bill was agreeable to my suggestion, so we went to Agais and were delighted when we found it a lot less crowded than the Buffalo Bill Saloon.
We walked into the restaurant. The lights were on, but no one seemed to be home! But then a older man with curly black hair and a ready smile came out to greet us. He directed us to choose a table, which we did. I started talking to Bill and the man looked at me curiously. He started speaking to me in a strange language. There was a moment of confusion, then the man realized that we were English speakers and spoke English to us. He said when we first walked in, he thought I was Greek! That really surprised me, of course, because I have very Celtic features.
He handed us surprisingly detailed and comprehensive menus in German, then struck up a conversation. It turned out the man was Greek, but had spent many years in Canada working as an engineer. His first wife was German and she had brought him to Germany. He second wife is also German and they had decided to open the Greek place for his retirement years. We had a wonderful evening and I remember telling the man that since we lived fairly closeby, we would probably become regulars. And he smiled at me and said, “You should.”
A couple of months went by before we ventured back to Agais. When we walked into the restaurant, the Greek proprietor greeted us with a big smile and a hearty welcome. He invited us to sit down. I decided to have gyros for the first time in my life. I immediately noticed that Agais was a little different than some of the other places Bill and I frequented. For one thing, the owner always brings out a basket of bread for us. The meals are very substantial and usually include a salad. At the end of the meal, he brings out pistachio nuts and ouzo, as well as eucalyptus bon bons with the check.
I also noticed that the owner always offers to make things just the way we want them. On our first visit, he noticed that I didn’t eat a lot of the cabbage in my salad. I told him that I can’t eat cabbage without creating a giant windstorm. So now he goes easy on the cabbage in my salad. I had a similar first response to t’zatziki, but have since learned to enjoy that with relish. He also knows what kind of wine we like. We sit down and he asks us if we want our usual Athos… a very tasty dry red that has the uncanny knack of putting Bill to sleep. Sometimes, especially in the summer when it’s hot, I can be talked into enjoying a glass of chilled white retsina.
I’ve noticed that while Agais is never packed, there are a number of loyal customers who seem to love the charming Greek proprietor. I’ve watched him negotiate with patrons over catering, chatting with them over pistachio nuts and ouzo as they settle on menus and the price. I’ve watched him teach his teenage son about the business, a young man who looks a whole lot like his father, complete with curly black hair.
Our favorite Greek restaurant owner also likes to talk to us about politics. One night, he quipped that the American presidential race was quite exciting. Then, he added with a grin, that if Obama gets elected, he’s liable to be shot! Bill and I exchanged nervous glances at this prediction, which gave us an interesting insight as to how some Europeans must look at Americans. I don’t think he was serious… at least I hope he wasn’t!
On another night, we were the only customers until another couple entered. They sat down at a table near ours. The whole evening, the male half of the couple was speaking excellent German and the Greek proprietor was responding in kind. Then, just as we were about to pay the check and leave, the proprietor heard the man speaking English to his companion. It turned out they were Canadians. They were equally surprised to find out that Bill and I were Americans. We all had a good laugh as we realized that none of us were natives of Deustchland.
Agais has also turned out to be a great place to take guests. When my friend Elaine and her husband came to visit, we decided to go out to dinner. Elaine is a strict vegetarian, though her husband doesn’t mind eating meat. We went to Agais and the proprietor showed us out to his terrace, which was charmingly laid out with large tables. Elaine explained her aversion to eating meat and our favorite Greek restauranteur steered her toward the available meat free entrees. She ended up having a delicious tomato rice dish with feta cheese, while the rest of us had gyros. My friend was very impressed by Agais… and it occurred to me that this was not the kind of experience we would have in a typical American restaurant. In most American places, the emphasis is less on making sure people have a good time and more on getting them in and out, so as to increase profits. It’s rare to become very friendly with restaurant owners, save for places in small towns.
The last time we were at Agais, it was the first night it was open after the owner’s annual three week vacation. We were the first ones there, of course, because as typical Americans, we eat early. By the end of the evening, several other local German families had joined us. It was pretty clear that Bill and I weren’t the only ones missing Agais. The place will never be a tourist draw, and that’s a good thing.
Over the past year, Agais has become a place where Bill and I enjoy good food, good wine, and interesting conversation. It’s also been a place where we learn about Greek and German culture. In fact, Bill has even asked our favorite Greek restaurant proprietor, whose name we have yet to learn, what places we should see when we finally make it to Greece. He’s happy to tell us as he takes our orders and always seems genuinely glad to see us whenever we need to satisfy our cravings for Greek food. It’s one of many things I will miss when it’s time to go back to America.