I wonder how many conversations and confessions accompanied by a glass of ouzo the tables of the “Ellinikon” have overheard in the almost 30 years since this Greek restaurant opened its doors in Brussels? Close but not too close, some 500 meters from the Commission and the Council, it has long been the favored hangout of politicians, diplomats, and everyone who wants to enjoy some Greek food and feel at home. The sun, on the rare occasions when it takes its place alongside the Magrittean clouds above the Belgian capital, shines through the large windows, making the space feel even more Greek.

Panagiotis Douvris, who is from Tripoli in the Peloponnese, came to Belgium to drive for NATO in 1983. He intended to stay a couple of years, he tells us, buy a car and return to his base at the Ministry of Defense in Athens.

“After finishing military school, I started work for the Ministry of National Defense. About two years later, positions opened up for drivers overseas. By chance, one night when I was driving a Russian general, the Greek brigadier general who was escorting him asked me, on the way back to headquarters, if I had applied for a post abroad. I told him I had, but that they had offered me a position in Turkey, which I’d turned down. He told me there was a position available in Belgium and that I should call at his office in the morning so they could fill me in. Just over a month later, I was in Brussels,” he explains. In the end, he spent about three years with the North Atlantic Alliance. But when he married Evangelia, a Greek woman who was born in Belgium, the two returned to Greece together.

The Customers Prefer Ouzo and Retsina

He went back to NATO in 1991 and stayed until 1994, when he resigned. Which is when he and Evangelia decided to open the “Ellinikon.” Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, former Commission President José Manuel Barroso, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and former President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz are just a few of the politicians who have eaten here, along, of course, with a host of NATO staff, employees of the European institutions, and journalists who often invite their friends and colleagues here for celebrations, because they know they’ll eat and drink well and à la Grecque.

“Most of them are very congenial. Make us whatever you want, they say,” Panagiotis reveals. Pedro Sanchez always felt completely at home here, he told us, while with Antonis Samaras, who was a regular when he was an MEP but would eat here often when he was Prime Minister, too, the discussions ranged from the political to the more personal.

As for Barroso, he was “relaxed, without any airs and graces.” However, everyone agrees on their love for Greek cuisine, Panagiotis tells us. Ouzo and retsina are the first choices of their customers, who show the restraint required by their positions.

But we don’t only talk about the politicians, and Panagiotis tells us how warmly the Belgians have welcomed the taverna, too: “The Belgians felt they had something special in their neighborhood.”

What’s more, as summer draws near, the clients—who, after so many years, are more like friends or family—seek advice and suggestions for summer holidays in Greece, which will be even more precious than usual this year for Panagiotis and Evangelia’s family.

Because in a few months, their daughter Irene, their only child, will be bringing their first grandchild into the world. They’ll be returning to their roots en famille at the end of July, and won’t be coming back until the start of the new season.