The Legend of the Spiliadis: The Greek Fishmongers Who Conquered America

Tasting a turbot in Baltimore and mullets in New York is possible: a Mediterranean saga based in Canada and the USA in the 70s brings the genre … flying

Fells Point is a neighbourhood to fall in love with, as there are few in Baltimore, a city of not many charms. Since the 18th century, it is the old port district, with its federal style houses, narrow streets, memories of a glorious maritime past. To get an idea, think about the -even more ancient- Beacon Hill of Boston: the most nostalgic of that colonial, pre-revolutionary, so English.

At Fells Point, like Beacon Hill, I used to get the fresh fish from the small local fleets. In Baltimore the flagship product has always been the blue crab or Callinectes sapidus , but if they find – they will find – some crab cake in Fells Point it will not come from the same fishing port, now inactive, but from other nearby, like Annapolis, in the bay of Chesapeake, or more likely imported frozen crabs, that the natives have almost disappeared.

However, when that night we arrived at that little house in Fells Point with the sign that read The Black Olive, what we found was imported, yes, but not frozen. And although the restaurant was Greek, the raw material came from France. After the usual tzatziki and other classic entrees, the grilled came the most extraordinary and gigantic whole turbot that this chronicler has tried in years. No more adamant than a splash of olive oil, at its perfect point, fresh as a sea breeze, accompanied by a glass of white wine from the Loire, culminated an unforgettable dinner.


There is not a single turbot caught on the festering coast of the United States. How was that miracle possible? They soon explained it to us: the previous day, as they do a couple of times a week, the owners had brought by plane not only that turbot but a few sole, lobsters and other ichthyological luxuries, directly from the gigantic market of Rungis, the Parisian Mercamadrid.

That night we came into contact for the first time with the Spiliadis family empire, which in the United States and Canada has become synonymous with unrivalled fish, and for which the large public there has come to believe that there is no kitchen of fish like that of the Greeks.

Shortly after we met, in New York, the Milos Estiatorio, larger and more luxurious than the Black Olive, but equally Greek, with the same genre and the same public success. They explained that it was the branch of the first Milos that opened, the one in Montreal and that they were already planning more openings.

One was already beginning to believe that the Greeks are the masters of seafaring cooking and that in Europe we were very dull for not having noticed. Weird thing, because we also remembered that the seafood restaurants of Mikrolimano – that kind of Torremolinos type of Athens – are not to shoot rockets. Why, then, were those Greek restaurants in America so good? An unfathomable mystery … until we learned that the owners of Milos were also called Spiliadis. So it is not a question of generalizing: the geniuses of the marine grill are not the Greeks in general, but the Spiliadis in general.


It is an old mesonera family that, like so many ethnic Greeks in Turkey, ran a tavern on the edge of the Bosphorus in Istanbul 100 years ago. After the expulsion of the Greeks in the 20s of the last century, they returned to their country but did not lose their travelling spirit. Two brothers Spiliadis, Stelios and Costas, emigrated half a century ago to America to study. Costas, who did it at the McGill University in Montreal, opened the first Milos there in 1979; from there he jumped to New York and London, he enjoyed the pleasure of opening a branch in Athens itself, and now he is also in Las Vegas and Miami. After learning with his uncle, one of Stelios’ sons, Dimitris, he opened the Black Olive in Baltimore in 1997, where his father had settled.

The example has spread: the great rival that has left Milos in New York is called Limani, with two establishments … founded and managed by former employees of Milos. Greeks, of course.

A fishmonger shows his genre at the Fulton Fish Market in New York, in 1943

All that Greek world has understood better than anyone what can be done in the face of the incessant decline of the fresh native fish in the United States , which so much despaired to the Dani García during his brief and unfortunate adventure in Manhattan (look for a fish market in New York with good whole pieces like those of Madrid or Bilbao … and they will not find it). And so they have developed, with their Mediterranean commercial ability, networks of constant supply by plane from France, Portugal, Greece, Peru … wherever necessary.

That translates into prices that seem impossible to the Spanish: in the Milos New York the salmon are more than 100 euros per kilo, and the critics celebrate the restraint of its competitor, Limani, who hardly charges them to 80.

As we are already realizing the Spanish with the rise to the stratosphere of the few elvers that remain, the fresh and quality fish and seafood are the products of the super-flood of the future. But at least here we still have some local produce, and good. In the sailing temples of America, which are not all Greeks – there is Le Bernardin, now of Eric Ripert, moved 30 years ago from Paris to Manhattan – all have to resort constantly to air transport, and the result is prohibitive.

It’s El Dorado, aquatic version and 21st century. To cheer up the evening, in addition to some cracking turbot, we can dance a sirtaki, which never fails.



Source: El Mundo