Greetings from Mushroom City: Bar Vlaha Highlights a Less Familiar Regional Greek Cuisine 

Four months in, Brookline’s hottest restaurant continues to draw crowds while showcasing mountainous central and northern Greece in a loving ode to the Vlach people. 


Large, crispy mushrooms in a brown bowl are topped with an herby green sauce and fresh herbs.

Bar Vlaha’s manitaria (crispy fried oyster mushrooms with maidanosalata, a parsley spread). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The hearty chew of the roasted-then-fried oyster mushroom hits you a split second after the crisp of its light cornstarch coating. Then a drizzle of maidanosalata—a parsley spread—elevates the bite with a fresh, herbaceous zing. This is manitaria, the fried mushroom dish at Bar Vlaha, a highlight on the menu. How often do you see mushrooms playing a starring role in Greek food?

An restaurant interior has a Greek rustic feel, with large colorful photos of the Vlach people. A lamb on a rotisserie is visible in the open kitchen.

Bar Vlaha. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A floormat says Bar Vlaha and is surrounded by knickknacks from rural Greece.

Bar Vlaha’s entryway. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

“Greece isn’t just postcard beaches and white buildings,” says Demetri Tsolakis, owner of Bar Vlaha and CEO of its parent company, Xenia Greek Hospitality. (Stay tuned for a review of Bar Vlaha by our critic MC Slim JB in our August issue, which just hit newsstands and will appear online in the coming weeks.) The Brookline restaurant, which opened in March, instead shines a light on the mountainous central and northern regions of Greece, the domain of the Vlachs, a nomadic shepherding community with a cuisine steeped in charcoal-fired, clay-pot braising and an innate sense of making strangers feel like friends. “The Vlach people set the foundation for Greek food and hospitality,” says Tsolakis. “They’re basically the roots of Greek culture as we know it.”

Thin rectangles of pita are topped with feta and herbs, browned in the oven, and piled on a rustic white plate on a maroon background.

Bar Vlaha’s alevropita (feta pie). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

It’s not a cuisine we really see around these parts, although there are hints of more familiar Greek classics on the menu. There are savory pitas (pies), sure, but you won’t see buttery layers of phyllo in all of them. One favorite of the Bar Vlaha team is alevropita, a feta-topped pie that goes back to shepherds cooking on cast iron over open fire, says Brendan Pelley, Xenia Greek Hospitality’s culinary director. It’s a thin, batter-style pie—rather than phyllo-based—made of flour and egg, topped with “good feta and good butter, roasted until crispy.” 

Lamb chops are served on a wooden platter with a half lemon, salt, and red onion.

Bar Vlaha’s paidakia (lamb chops with olive oil, lemon, and oregano). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A rolled-up version of baklava with a big scoop of ice cream sits on an elegant glass plate.

Bar Vlaha’s gianniotiko (rolled baklava and kataifi, almonds, and olive oil ice ceam)—”the turducken of dessert,” says owner Demetri Tsolakis. In the background, another dessert: galatopita, ruffled milk pie with sorbet. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The most obvious difference on the menu from what many of us here in Boston recognize as Greek food, though? The seafood. These regions have lakes and rivers; accordingly, Bar Vlaha only serves freshwater fish—crayfish, trout, cod, and the like. (Pelley plans to add frog to the menu at some point, too.) No octopus here.

A brightly lit restaurant has a rustic, homey vibe, with wooden tables and chairs and Greek-style plates hanging on a wall.

Bar Vlaha. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

And then there are the mushrooms, an ode to Grevena in northern Greece, considered to be the mushroom capital of the country. Here they’re served fried, a truly unforgettable dish, as well as in a phyllo-based pie and in a grilled vegetable medley. “On our research trip, we went to Grevena, and there were mushrooms everywhere, statues of mushrooms,” said Tsolakis. “Growing up [in a Greek home in New England], we never had a mushroom once in our house. But in Grevena, mushrooms were fried, sauteed, braised. There were a hundred ways of eating mushrooms.”

A basket of thick-cut sourdough bread is accompanied by thick butter and a trio of Greek spreads.

Several of Bar Vlaha’s aloifes (spreads) with fresh sourdough bread. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Braised beef in a brown sauce is plated in a brown bowl with a rice-like grain.

Bar Vlaha’s moschari me damaskina (beef cheeks with prunes). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The less familiar cuisine has clearly piqued the curiosity of food lovers in Greater Boston, as this is one of the hardest tables to reserve right now. If you’ve got the flexibility to go early or late, you’ll have an easier time, but booking a large party for a prime time will prove more difficult, especially if you’re hoping to snag the long table looking into the open kitchen, watching lamb legs, chicken, and more cook on the rotisserie over charcoal. (The patio, meanwhile, is first come, first served. “We created a space with authentic rugs and tins with plants to give you a Greek garden feel,” says Tsolakis. “It’s very relaxed.”)

A long white table at a restaurant has six upholstered maroon chairs and looks into an open kitchen with a fire burning in an oven.

This table has a fantastic view of Bar Vlaha’s open kitchen. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

While Bar Vlaha’s deeply delicious food draws in crowds, the cozy, homey atmosphere and the creative, fun cocktail list round out the experience. As a complement to the surprises on the food menu, the drink menu is aimed more at accessibility: It highlights Greek flavors that may be new to some customers, but in concoctions that feel a little familiar.

A pink frozen cocktail is topped with a sage leaf and dried kumquat.

Bar Vlaha’s Yucatán Yiayia (Lunazul blanco, cactus pear, kumquat, lime, Greek honey, bergamot), served frozen. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A dirty martini-style cocktail has drops of olive oil and a thread of saffron on top and a metal toothpick of pickled vegetables to the side.

Bar Vlaha’s Toursini (Hendrick’s Carpano Bianco, laurel, diktamo, pickled vegetables, olive oil, saffron, goat milk clarified). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Take the Yucatán Yiayia, for instance—“like someone’s grandma went to Mexico,” says beverage director Lou Charbonneau. It’s a frozen tequila-based cocktail with cactus pear, kumquat, and lime—so far, something you’ve maybe tasted before on a beach somewhere—but add Greek honey and bergamot to the mix, and you’ve got something new. Then there’s the Toursini, which has dirty martini vibes but goes through goat milk clarification and includes pickled vegetables, saffron, laurel, and olive oil. And the Ode to Pan “is inspired by the trappings of a bloody mary,” says Charbonneau, “but it is very much not. We were like, ‘How can we have this be cool, crisp, and refreshing, but have all the savory elements [of a bloody mary]?’” The result: tomato gin with lemon, celery, mastic cucumber soda, and heirloom tomato sorbet.

A tall cocktail is reddish-orange and has a ribbon of cucumber and red sorbet ice cubes.

Bar Vlaha’s Ode to Pan (Moletto tomato gin, lemon, celery, mastic cucumber soda, heirloom tomato sorbet). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

It all equals a winning formula for Xenia Greek Hospitality, a restaurant group that also includes Krasi, an acclaimed Greek wine bar and restaurant in Back Bay; Hecate, its mystical cocktail bar neighbor downstairs; and the growing fast-casual chain Greco, serving gyros and other street food. (And there’s more to come, including something “more seafood-focused and island-inspired” in the South End, slated for later this year or early next, plus more Greco.) Looking forward, the team is getting excited about fall menu changes and the launch of brunch, all while enjoying these hectic but gratifying opening months.

An espresso martini-like cocktail is served in a Greek briki and topped with a cookie.

Bar Vlaha’s Pump the Briki (vodka, Borghetti, Greek coffee, petimezi, St. John Commandaria, walnut, frappé froth. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A hand pours an orange-brown liqueur into a delicate, small glass from a copper vessel.

Bar Vlaha’s rakomelo (tsipouro with Greek forest honey, cinnamon, clove, and lemon). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

“It was risky introducing a concept based on Central Greek cuisine and food, but it needed to be done,” says Tsolakis. “We wanted to show the roots of Greek food and hospitality and how it originated.”

1653 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-906-8556,