Mediterranean in Little Italy: Simplicity in Phyllo, Feta & Honey
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy.
We left behind the cliff-side views of Greece’s western coast for the softly slopping shore views of the hilltop town of Exo Gonia.
Our mission? A lazy lunch of local fare at Metaxi Mas far from the crowds and tourist cafes.
We parked just off the main road and walked down a quiet village street to a light-dappled patio filled with locals and well-informed travelers perched between clay potted bougainvillea and cacti. We were waved to shady table and welcomed with briny olives, creamy cheese and shots of raki, an anise-scented apéritif.
Hushed happy tones of nearby conversations and the ting of silverware served as the soundtrack. The menu was short, the mark of a proper local spot, so we quickly settled on a few dishes to share.
While we were charmed by our first course of grilled oyster mushrooms and white eggplant in tomato sauce, what really captured my heart was the unique sweet and savory dish that ended our meal.
Local brined cheese was wrapped in phyllo dough and fried to a golden brown before being drenched in sticky honey and topped with nutty sesame seeds.
On a recent trip to the farmers’ market in Little Italy, I picked up some orange blossom honey that inspired me to recreate this dish, with a nod to San Diego’s local citrus. The floral notes of the honey play off the earthy herbs of the feta cheese filling, and baking instead of frying creates a great crunch and requires less oil.
When I find myself longing for a casual, leisurely meal like the ones I enjoyed in Exo Gonia, I make a batch of these sweet-salty pastries to serve alongside local olives, a simple salad, and delicate glasses of raki.