Taverna Opa Orlando
The last time I dined at Taverna Opa was back in high school for my best friend’s birthday. A large group of our friends went to the location on South Beach, sat at a long wooden table, shared dishes family-style, threw paper napkins in the air and danced on tables with the belly dancers. It was such a fun evening, but I haven’t ventured back since I was diagnosed with Celiac because I was weary about what I’d be able to eat.
I was ecstatic to hear that Taverna Opa Orlando had a large variety of gluten-free dishes and was even more excited when the restaurant invited us to dine with them. Greek is one my absolute favorite kinds of cuisine. (I have a mild obsession feta cheese!)
The entire staff at Taverna was incredibly outgoing. From the lovely hostess that sat us, our nice server, the manager, Alex, and to the owner, Vassilis, who stopped by our table a few times to see how we were enjoying our meal. It’s a family-run restaurant and their passion for their food and guests is evident in every dish. They shared neat facts about how the olive oil comes from an olive bush in the back yard of the owner’s house in Greece. All of their cheeses are shipped in directly from Greece. Vassilis goes to the farmer’s market to pick out all of the vegetables and produce for the restaurant. And many of the recipes are family recipes that have been passed down.
Located on the second floor in Pointe Orlando, Taverna Opa Orlando is perfect for any fun night out. Birthday, girls night out, date night, double date, family, or whatever the occasion. Belly dancers circulate throughout the restaurant and the entire dining room frequently breaks out in a big dance, throwing napkins in the air.
The atmosphere is lively, fun and energetic. If you want a more quiet table, you can sit in the lovely patio area outside, which we chose to do for this visit because I wanted to really be able to talk to the staff about the food and enjoy the beautiful Orlando spring weather!
There is a key at the bottom of the menu to help denote which items are gluten-free (and vegetarian), and the staff was knowledgable on which dishes were safe to eat. Alex, the manager, selected our dishes for us to make sure we sampled a delicious variety of their gluten-free options.
Many items on the menu that aren’t marked gluten-free (such as the hummus) can easily be modified to be gluten-free, by just omitting the pita bread they are typically served with. So be sure to ask lots of questions.
All the food was so delicious. I brought my boyfriend with me. It was just the two of us… and we ate literally every single bite of every dish. EVERY. BITE. I kid you not! That is how delicious all of this food was. And it was full of such hearty, fresh ingredients that we felt full, but great at the end of the meal. (Not the way you feel when you are Thanksgiving-stuffed!)
We started our Greek adventure with four (yes, four!) appetizers.
Opa’s Housemade Hummus is typically served with pita bread, however for us they brought out a tray of fresh cucumber wedges for dipping. Chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, sea salt and pepper. So deliciously simple. The coolest part about the hummus is that they serve it in a wooden mortar and pestle, so you can grind it up to be as chunky or smooth as you like.
I really loved the chunky consistency of our hummus. I typically make hummus in a food processor and blend until smooth, so this was a nice change. Once we finished the cucumbers wedges, we kept eating the hummus with a spoon until we hit the bottom of the bowl!
They also brought us Horiatiki, a gorgeous Traditional Greek Salad with cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, peppers, and a hunk of soft feta cheese, dressed with olive oil and oregano. I think I could live off of this salad. I am a Greek salad buff, and this really hit the spot. Oddly enough, I loved that this salad didn’t have a base of lettuce. It had all of the yummy ingredients that are typically the topping on the salad and was a perfectly refreshing appetizer. If I were ordering this as a meal for lunch I would probably add some protein on top, but it was a perfect starter and had great flavor.
Next we got adventurous and tried the Octopus. Grilled then dipped in an olive oil and red wine vinegar bath with some lemon juice and herbs. Holy cow. (Holy octopus!?) I was a little nervous to try this because I’ve never had octopus before. It was incredible. The texture was a lot meatier than I expected, and the vinaigrette paired perfectly with the grilled flavor. I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely be ordering this again.
The fourth appetizer. Oh my goodness. Saganaki is one of my favorite appetizers ever. I tried this dish for the first time a few years ago when my boyfriend took me to an amazing restaurant name Cava up in Maryland. Saganaki is made with a large slab of vlachotiri cheese doused in brandy and flamed table side with fresh lemon juice squeezed on top.
It’s salty, crispy on the outside, chewy, and mouthwateringly incredibly fabulous. Saganaki is traditionally served with pita bread. But we cut delicious bites out of the big piece of cheese and enjoyed it by itself. If you’re not a fan of salty cheese, then you may not enjoy this as much as we do. But if you like salty treats, then I bet you will absolutely love this. I thought I snapped a picture of the inside but I can’t seem to find it right now! You’ll just have to go check it out in person to see how fabulous it is.
Kleftiko is a dish made of lamb, potatoes, carrots, a mix of greek cheeses, fresh rosemary sprigs and garlic baked inside of a parchment paper pouch. They unwrap the parchment paper at the table and the steam and scents of lamb and herbs perfume the air. The lamb was so tender that you could cut it with your fork like “buttah!” It was so flavorful from the fresh herbs and vegetables and was very satisfying. The owner, Vassilis, mentioned to us that he ate this dish for dinner and it’s one of his favorite items on the menu.
Boureki is their signature vegetarian dish. It’s like a lasagna made with layers of thinly sliced potatoes and zucchini. I can’t wait to try and make my own version of this dish at home. Or just go back to Opa and order it again! In between the zucchini and potatoes were layers of soft greek cheeses and mint, and it was topped with a golden brown layer of cheese. The “lasagna” sat in a shallow pool of sauce, made of pureed tomatoes and veggies with some intriguing spices. I’m pretty sure Vassilis said this was his mother-in-law’s recipe! So neat.
You’d think we’d be done eating at this point, but no. Time for dessert! The only gluten-free dessert option is their Yogurt with Honey and Walnuts. Taverna Opa Orlando makes the Greek yogurt in-house, and it is mighty tasty! I love plain Greek yogurt, which this was, and the honey drizzled on top complemented the tartness beautifully. The walnuts gave a lovely crunch. I’ve had frozen yogurt for dinner, but never just plain, soft Greek yogurt. It was refreshing, light and totally hit the spot.
Dining at Taverna Opa, we felt like part of the family. I can’t wait to return soon with my friends on an empty tummy for another night surrounded by the delicious food and drinks and uniquely energetic atmosphere.
Check out their menu and specials here.
Hugs, kisses + yummy dishes… xoxo Lauren