Don’t let the name put you off. Retsina—a pine resin–flavoured wine from Greece—has a pretty bad rap, thanks no doubt to the cheap stuff, which can be more like alcoholic spruce beer than fine wine. The good stuff, however, is more subtle, and perfectly suited to the hallmark flavours of Greek cuisine: lemon, oregano and garlic. And it’s the good stuff that’s on offer at Retsina, a simple new 44-seat tavern serving traditional Greek food at Gerrard and Sherbourne.
First-time restaurateur Tom Papachristou enlisted his mother, Nitsa Papachristou, to cook up her mother’s family recipes from back home in Myrtia, Greece (population: 788). The menu items are recognizable Greek staples—moussaka ($17), keftedakia ($9), spanakopita ($8), souvlaki ($16)—presented in unfamiliar ways with high-quality ingredients (Papachristou’s uncles back home send olives and fresh olive oil produced in their family’s grove). There are also nods to North American classics, like the Smash Burger ($12), served on a Wonder bread bun with a Kraft slice and “special sauce.”
The building has been in the family since the 1980s, when Tom’s parents immigrated to Canada. In the ’80s it was a tapas restaurant named Cheers and in the ’90s it was a souvlaki joint called Mr. Souvlaki. The space is fairly nondescript, inside and out, and the walls are still in need of art, but there is a working wood-burning fireplace in the dining room. Once the weather warms up again, the secluded courtyard back patio, all strung up with bare Edison bulbs, will be pressed into service. Papachristou has visions of whole lambs roasting on a spit out there.