Take a stroll along the beach in Hamilton, Ontario and you’ll find Barangas. Famous for its Mediterranean dishes and European charm, it’s been a dream come true for owner and chef, Margarita Tsangarakis.
As a young girl growing up in Greece, Margarita recalls being sent off to church every Sunday by her father and coming home to a kitchen filled with pots and pans and a table piled high with amazing meals. Her father later opened a beach-front restaurant where Margarita and her husband, Alex, spent a summer working for him. In the late 80s and now living in Ontario, Margarita – who was then a travel consultant – and Alex decided to open their own restaurant called “It’s All Greek To Me.” Walks along the local beach would take them by an old schoolhouse that they fell in love with and often wondered what would happen if they ever got the chance to buy it. As luck would have it, a few years later, the old schoolhouse came up for lease and Barangas (Greek for beach hut) was born.
“For us, Barangas has always been about more than just having a restaurant,” says Margarita. “It was about creating an experience. Food and people just go together naturally. There’s such a connection there.”
Considering the popularity of the place, it’s easy to see that Margarita and her husband, Alex, and their family have succeeded in creating something special. What sets Barangas apart? Location might have something to do with it: beachfront restaurants in Hamilton are a rarity. But there’s more to it than that. The setting, the atmosphere, the menu and that feeling of family combine to appeal to all ages. “I cater to everyone,” says Margarita. “From babies to 90-year-olds. Everyone is welcome here – family gatherings, business lunches, weddings, even corporate team building.”
The idea behind Barangas was to give customers a mini-vacation of sorts, a notion that came from Margarita’s background as a travel consultant. (“Food and travel go hand in hand.”) The décor is a delightful blend of corrugated roofs and cathedral ceilings with touches of Mediterranean accents. The view of the lake further adds to the charm and the menu has a strong focus on Mediterranean food. Margarita loves the freshness and simplicity of it. “You know what you’re eating,” she says. “When you can distinguish the different flavors that – to me – is the essence of cooking.”
Her approach is equally as simple: she uses recipes that have been with her for years. “I might tweak them a bit, change them up but it’s just enough to give them a modern twist.”
Cooking for Margarita is, well, a work of heart. “I love to cook,” she says simply. “It comes from my soul. Running the restaurant means I may not get to spend as much time in the kitchen as I used to but I still love being involved.” That passion has also served her well in other areas. She runs a chef’s challenge for corporate parties (done with the help of her Crown Verity grill) and is often invited to local kitchens for large supermarkets in the city.
While she finds cooking indoors very rewarding, Margarita has a special fondness for grilling. “I don’t feel like I’m working when I’m outdoors,” she says. It’s also, she adds, the perfect opportunity to interact with her customers. The staff at Barangas use an MCB-72 that has been fondly nicknamed “The Monster”.
“They’re the best grills around. I’ve been using my Crown Verity for twenty years,” says Margarita. “They’re strong, powerful and stand up to anything. We use our grill every day in the summer for all kinds of events – volleyball tournaments, corporate parties – and there could be from 30 to 300 people being served.” In fact, for the past five years, The Monster has cooked 800 burgers in one day during McMaster University’s Frosh Week. The dual control panels are just one of the features that Margarita loves about her Crown Verity grill. “Sometimes, we’ll cook a variety of BBQ items and we’ll often have two chefs there. One chef on one side can be cooking with medium heat and the chef on the other side can be cooking with high heat.”
Her personal preferences for cooking on The Monster include meat and vegetables. Her lamb burgers (“What can I say? I’m Greek. I like lamb.”) are a favorite, perhaps because they’re stuffed with Kefalotyri, a sharp-flavored Greek cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk.
There are always plenty of events planned for the summer at Barangas and Margarita knows that, no matter what happens to come her way, The Monster will be up for it. “I’ve never used any other grill. Why would I when I know this is the best product out there.”