One of the fun things about being a tourist are the tourist “traps”. One of the places that we visited like this was Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs was settled in the late 1800’s. The original industry of the city was natural sponges. One smart business man went to Greece and recruited some of their sponge divers. From this point on Tarpon Springs has had a large Greek population. It now has the highest percentage of Greek-Americans of any city in the United States. In the 1940’s there was a huge red-algae bloom that whipped out the sponge crop. The sponge crop has just recently recovered. Since the sponge industry went bust, the town turned to fishing and tourism. Many of the old buildings used during the height of the sponge industry were transformed into museums commemorating the sponge industry, as well as restaurants and souvenir stores, all with a Greek flair. When we were there they had thousands of sponges decorating the buildings, boat tours, tons of souvenir shops and lots of Greek restaurants.
Walking down the main tourist street, you can see the influence that the Greek-American’s have had on the town. With small streets, brightly coloured buildings and people stopping and chatting in Greek you almost feel like you’re in a small town in Greece. While walking by the gift shops and buildings festooned with sponges you have different boat tour operators trying to entice you to take a tour on their boat. We ended up taking one of these boat tours. We were brought out through the channels, where we saw pelicans, learned about Manatees (did you know they can get hypothermia!), saw bottle-nosed dolphins playing in our wake and getting the chance to go shelling on a sandbar. My favourite part of the tour was seeing the dolphins!
After some time out on the open water, we were hungry! One of the reasons people come to Tarpon Springs is for the Greek food. On the suggestion of the guy who convinced us to take the boat tour, we went to Mama’s Greek Cuisine(it looked like he ate there a lot). Mama’s Greek Cuisine is located in the back of a tourist market (735 Dodecanese Blvd. Unit 40). Mama’s is a big place with a really nice patio in the back. We went for lunch and it wasn’t busy but I am sure at different times of year that this place is packed, especially if you come on nights with belly dancing! The menu is really big, if you have a Greek favourite I am sure you’ll be able to find it somewhere on the menu. I had the Keftedes, which are Greek meatballs. When I first saw the server bringing them to me, I thought that they looked super dry. However I was pleasantly surprised, they were super juicy! They were also seasoned perfectly. The entree also came with a Greek salad and while there wasn’t too much special about the salad, the feta cheese in it was out of this world! After our large lunch (the portion sizes are very generous) we were surprised to get baklava for dessert, it was really sweet but a great way to finish off a Greek meal. The one thing that was a little lacking at Mama’s was the service. While we got everything on time, with a name like Mama’s I was expecting very friendly servers who would explain what some of the entrees were. What made up for their lack of friendliness was the fact that they served Saganaki (flaming cheese) which they doused in Ouzo and light on fire table side! It was always fun seeing them do this while trying not to light the plastic plants on fire and then having to yell OPA! after. Overall I would recommend Mama’s Greek cuisine to anyone visiting Tarpon Springs for a fun touristy day, good food, good prices and lots of fun!
After a day touring through the sponges in Tarpon Springs we headed back for some time on the beach!
Here are some links if you’re interested in visiting Tarpon Springs:
Funny sign, don’t see these in Canada Fishing boat we saw on the boat tour
Me and my catch – JAWS!!!
There are tons of cool shells to be found! Sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico, cool to visit!