Tell me another Greek place around here that does authentic Greek food," Tommy Karakostas asks from his perch at the Greek Village Grille, his painstakingly genuine gyro shop on Madison Avenue in Lakewood.
"There isn't one here," he says, promptly answering his own question. "There's four in America."
Karakostas' ethnic pride runs as deep as the menu of traditional dishes served daily at Greek Village. And he's been on the lookout for an opportunity to make a bolder statement still.
Come April, he will have that chance.
Karakostas has commissioned a sort of all-star team of Greek investors, designers, and others to bring his dream to life in the heart of Ohio City: Santorini, a new upscale-leaning Greek restaurant, will be nestled next to Orale on West 25th Street by winter's end. It's the latest step in a streetwide resurgence that's transforming the Ohio City strip into a United Nations of eateries.
If you thought Greek Village played it old school, wait till you see Karakostas' plans for Santorini. Awash in white from rafters to rugs, the new restaurant will be accented in familiar brilliant yellows and blues, with straw seats like those you might find in an Old World eatery overlooking the sea.
Santorini will launch with a single floor devoted to dining, but plans are in store to christen a rooftop patio come summer; an additional floor for dining is also in the works for later. In all, Santorini's 6,000 square feet of space will dwarf his flagship Lakewood takeout shop.
And the menu?
"It will be full Greek. Beyond Greek. Greek that you've never seen in the U.S.," Karakostas says. "This will be food that a lot of Greeks have been afraid to serve."
And what might they fear? Namely, an emphasis on Greek seafood, the likes of which are plucked from the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and served as staples throughout the Greek Isles and mainland. With no concessions made to freshness, Karakostas will receive his seafood directly from Boston and New York.
"The Greek menu is so expansive," he says, the passion dripping from his words and stirred by each gesture he makes. "Greece has 1,000 islands, and there are so many regional dishes."
Just don't ask for Thousand Island dressing. The menu will feature two salads, he reveals: One made with pickled beets, the other with dandelions.
"If we're gonna do this right, we're gonna go all-out."
Perhaps the best news yet: Santorini shouldn't go all-out on your wallet. Karakostas plans to occupy the middle ground in terms of price, but will stake out higher elevation when it comes to authentic atmosphere and regular live music — Greek music, if you hadn't guessed.
Stay tuned for details on Santorini's grand-opening plans.
BARGAINS ABOUND: Like the dining scene itself, Downtown Restaurant Week is getting bigger every year. Now in its fifth go-'round, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance's annual gift to diners has drawn in more than 40 centrally located eateries, ranging from newbies like Pura Vida, Taza, and Cowell & Hubbard to staples like Blue Point Grille, Johnny's, and John Q's Steakhouse. The result is plenty of bargains: $30, three-course dinners at every participating eatery, and $15 lunch specials at select locations.
And for suburbanites who kvetch about paying for parking: a number of downtown lots will be offering special $2 rates after 5 p.m.
The deals continue through Sunday, March 4. Find details, including parking locations and menus, at downtowncleveland.com/events/restaurant-week.aspx.
MORE TO COME: Perhaps you read about the kerfuffle over Fabio Salerno's planned Ohio City restaurant in Scene & Heard. But he has other irons in the fire too. The chef-restaurateur is presently at work planning a new menu and interior for Detroit Shoreway's Reddstone, which he purchased last year. Also on tap is a downtown Cleveland location for Ballantine, business partner Sean Heineman's popular Willoughby gastropub.