NOTE: The late George Koulouris (d. December 11, 2011) opened Mount Athos Restaurant & Café on the Feastday of St. Anthony’s, January 17th, 2005 with the blessing of Geronda Ephraim. Since the late 90’s, Geronda Ephraim has been giving blessings to close and loyal spiritual children to move closer to St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. George Koulouris was the Treasurer for the Monastery’s shell corporation St. Stephen’s Foundation—which has a record of being one of the highest income nonprofits—for many years. After George’s death, his son Peter took over the family business. Peter also replaced George as Treasurer of St. Stephen’s Foundation. Peter is currently the Vice Chair of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce http://florenceazchamber.com/board-members.htm
The following article is taken from High Roads Magazine, January/February 2015, p. 24:
It was one monastery that drew the Koulouris family to Arizona, but 20 monasteries that inspired the name of their Florence cafe, Mount Athos Restaurant, where traditional Greek foods like rice-stuffed grape leaves, gyros, spinach pie, and sticky sweet baklava dominate the menu. Opened in 2005, the restaurant celebrates its 10th anniversary this January.
Owner Pete Koulouris, who began working in his family’s restaurant when he was 10 years old, explains that following 9/11, his parents decided to leave New York City and relocate near St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence. They actually ended up in Chandler, where he and his late father, George, started looking for space to open a restaurant.
A friend referred them to the current Florence location, but they still weren’t committed to serving Greek food until a contractor mistakenly posted, “Greek Restaurant Coming Soon.” Embracing the concept, they named the restaurant Mount Athos after the mountain on a steep, rocky peninsula in northern Greece that is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries.
Locals between work shifts, seniors from Sun City Anthem, and visitors heading to or from the monastery fill the booths and tables of Mount Athos’ simply decorated interior, each savoring plates heaped with food.
Koulouris recommends ordering the gyro platter, a mound of seasoned meat served with pita slices and tzatziki sauce. Or try the braised lamb, a meaty shank simmered with vegetables in a red wine sauce. It comes with a knife, but you won’t need it — the lamb falls apart under the slightest pressure. Mousaka, a layered dish of potatoes, ground beef, and eggplant covered in béchamel sauce, and the pasticio, penne pasta with ground beef, are other Greek favorites.
Be sure to save room for dessert. No matter how tempting the homemade New York-style cheesecake and the baklava are, you’ll want to order galaktobouriko, a honey-glazed, filo-wrapped milk custard. “Pretty much everything we do here is traditional,” Koulouris says. “All our Greek dishes come from family recipes.”
Mount Athos is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serves American and Italian dishes in addition to Greek fare.
Explore the Monastery
Before or after your Greek feast, take the short drive southeast of Florence to St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery for a self-guided tour of the grounds and chapels established by six monks in 1995. Make the gift shop your first stop to ensure you are properly dressed and your last stop for local honey, olives, and bread.
TERESA BITLER is the author of Backroads & Byways of Indian Country.