Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tarpon Springs: Sponge Capital of the World

Tarpon Springs is a unique gem in the state of Florida. Located where a series of bayous meet the Gulf of Mexico, it boasts the largest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States and along with its authentic Greek cuisine, Tarpon Springs is most famous for its sponges, which are harvested along its Gulf coastline. Originally named for the tarpon seen jumping out of the bayous throughout the area by the original settlers, the city has a rich Mediterranean history, with Greek immigrants settling here in the late 1800s to continue their trade of sponge diving. Now Tarpon Springs is known as 'The Sponge capital of the World'. Driving into town there are signs marking the way to the sponge docks, where harvesting boats have launched since 1924, and where the first sponge boat, The St. Nicholas, left the marina in search of sponge beds far out into the gulf along the Florida coastline. The St Nicholas still goes out, but only with tourists to watch a traditional sponge divers harvest a sponge. Not truly authentic, the 45-minute trip is a popular tourist attraction. 

For those that get hungry, authentic Greek cuisine is just a short roll away. Opened in 1991, Myknonos is one of the best restaurants in Tarpon Springs, serving authentic Greek cuisine based on the mouthwatering family recipes of owners Andreas and Renee Salivaras. Everything out of their kitchen is made from scratch from the finest ingredients including all of the breads, pitas and pastries which come from the family's nearby bakery. Warm and welcoming, the couple are committed to greeting all guests as family, and run the restaurant based on a heartfelt Greek expression known as 'philoxenia' which translates as 'generosity of spirit, hospitality and friendship'. Serving authentic home-cooked Greek dishes and quite possibly the best tzatziki in the world, Mykonos captures the flavours and genuine warm of the Aegean.

George Billiris, one of Tarpon Spring's legendary old sponge divers

The Anastasi sponge boat

Bronzed and burly sponge boat captain

The captains crew sorting the mornings haul of local sponges

Decked out in rubber boots, sponge fishing is a wet business

The Captain Jack Fishing Boat in port at Tarpon Springs

Old photo of original sponge divers in Tarpon Springs

Sponge diving mural at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange

Local sponges from the waters off Tarpon Springs on Florida's Gulf Coast

A Streptophylla yybrid growing inside of a dried sea urchin shell

Dolphin cruises are a big deal in Tarpon Springs with 'hawkers' tempting tourists at every corner

Spongerama - only in America!

Main Street in Tarpon Springs

Mykonos Restaurant in Tarpon Springs

Myknonos menu of traditional Greek dishes

Greek Retsina white wine is an acquired taste with its with this distinct evergreen flavour,
which originated from the practice of sealing amphorae with Aleppo Pine resin in ancient times

Fresh baked bread 

A heaping bowl of fabulous homemade Tzatziki, and when I remarked on how delicious it was, 
our server said "Of course, it's homemade"

Served with warm homemade pita, we finished the tzatziki in no time at all

Our server arrives with the pan-seared Kefalotyri cheese and sets it alight with some Metaxa, 
and wisely keeps her distance from the flames

Hot, sizzling and deliciously golden, the Kefalotyri was enormously flavourful with a lovely briny flavour

Owner Andreas Salivaras oversees every detail at his restaurant and greets guests as they arrive

Small Salad with feta, cucumber, tomato and a hot banana pepper

Lentil Soup

Mousaka with ground beef, eggplant, potato and rich creamy béchamel topping served with braised lima beans

Grilled Calamari

Mykonos owner Andreas Salivaras came by to say hello and ask how we enjoyed our meal

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