There are the places that draw a crowd because of the hype, the 'It' names at the helm of the venue or the high-profile clientele. And then there are the places that draw a crowd because, even though the decor is a bit daggy, the menu is pretty old-school and the atmosphere lacks any kind of finesse, the food is damn fine and repeat business is high. In an area full of the former kind of place, Pireaus Blues is precisely the latter.
Plumb in the middle of Brunswick Street's action, Pireaus Blues is a true slice of authentic Greek cuisine — and it's a local stalwart, having done its thing for nearly 20 years now. Tables fill the floor space and as soon as you walk in, you're engulfed by a buzz of conversation and warm welcome. Pendant lights and small photo frames lining the walls give it a really humble feel, and the food is just as homely.
Needless to say, all the favourites feature. Snack on saganaki ($10.50), grilled octopus ($14.50), dolmades ($12.50) and dips with pita bread, including the freshest and tastiest taramasalata this writer has had the pleasure of devouring (and there have been a few).
Mains feature a selection of meats — the lemon lamb ($30.50) is melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness — seafood, moussaka and salads, and the dessert list will have you searching for room in an already satisfied stomach. The loukoumades (Greek doughnuts with honey, cinnamon and crushed walnuts; $8.50) are a popular choice and go beautifully with the halva ice cream.
Those with decision-making issues, or food FOMO tendencies will be delighted to see some banquet options. The Rembetiko banquet costs $48 per person and includes more dips, saganaki, dolmades, grilled calamari, lamb, chicken and Greek salad than you dare to dream about. And it is of course finished off with the loukoumades and halva ice cream. The vegetarian and gluten-free requirements in our group were handled with ease and I cannot think of a single reason for groups to go any other way.
BYO is also an option for an $8 corkage fee, but the wine list is substantial enough if you don't have a bottle on hand.
In a time when restaurants are carefully conceptualised and crafted, the approach here is refreshingly non-try-hard — and, with food is this good and a hoard of Melburnians continuing to lap it right up, why would they?