Manolis and Jenny Axapoulos have created a home away from home for many Greek transplants at the International Market & Bakery in Rockville. "Most of the embassy comes here on Saturdays," says Manolis. They come for a cup of coffee, to watch a soccer game or maybe play some cards with friends at the front cafe tables.
The shelves display a small United Nations of products: India, Syria, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Brazil, Germany, Lebanon, Iran, Israel, Russia and, of course, Greece. Tins of fish and jars of olives are artfully displayed.
The 30 different jams and preserves extend well past the ordinary strawberry and grape choices (although those also are available): watermelon, sour cherry, mulberry and even rose petal (all $4.45 per 16-ounce jar).
There is organic olive oil (16.7 ounces, $14), along with more than 20 other choices. The types of honey are just as extensive and include single varietal honeys (1.75 ounces, $3.99; 8.8 ounces, $10.99) with distinct notes such as wild thyme and fir of Vytina.
The cheese case displays several fetas. The very finest -- like nothing I have found in an average supermarket -- is the Bulgarian feta called Dodonis ($8.19 a pound). Buttery, lingering and not overly salty, this is cheese worth nibbling on with no accompaniment.
The year-old shop was the dream of Manolis's wife Jenny. "It is her heart that makes it what it is," he says. "It wouldn't be this without her." She makes many of the pastries by hand from her grandmother's recipes. You can taste the freshness -- and the heart -- in the kataeifi (shredded phyllo with walnuts), galactoboureko (custard cream) delicately encased in sheets of flaky phyllo and ravavi (semolina syrup cake), which is tender and moist. The baklava is thick with spiced, sweet walnuts and far surpasses ordinary versions of the Greek treat (all $4.25 for a generous piece).
Manolis plans to add an espresso bar and gelato counter in the next few months. As if there weren't enough choices.
-- Leigh Lambert (April 2006)