BELMONT – Most Greek eateries in America tend toward diner-style fare with mystery meat gyros, cheeseburgers and maybe a chicken skewer or two. It’s virtually unrecognizable from the actual food served in Greece, which tends toward seafood, fresh vegetables and quality meat. A new restaurant in Belmont called Estia’s Kouzina aims to change that perception with upscale, authentic and from-scratch Greek cuisine served in style.
Vicki Georgoulias grew up in the hospitality business here in Charlotte. Her parents owned two different restaurants in the area and she worked at both of them.
“My goal was to not be in the restaurant business when I grew up,” Georgoulias said.
However, she met her husband, Gus Georgoulias, who just happened to own a restaurant, and she got sucked back in.
The couple, along with business partner Paul Labrakis, had an idea for a more classic and bona fide Greek restaurant. And, after an extensive renovation, Estia’s opened in May of 2018.
“This was originally an Asian buffet place, and we had to redo all the floors and create a different style for the walls,” Georgoulias said.
Estia’s was originally supposed to be a farm-to-table concept, but that proved to be too difficult with the volume of customers. However, the restaurant is an amalgam of locally sourced meat and produce and items imported from Greece. For example, the poultry and the lettuce are bought from nearby farms, and the fish, olive oil and oregano come from Greece.
“We actually buy some oregano still on the stalk,” Georgoulias said. “Then we strip it off by hand; it has the most amazing aroma and taste!”
The couple hired Chef Harry Madeckas to create the new menu; he worked at Kokkari in the San Francisco area. As a Greenville, S.C., native, Madeckas is happy to be back in the South, bringing his culinary expertise to Belmont.
The menu is full of well-known items such as: gyros, spanakopita, souvlaki and mousaka. However, there is also lesser known fare, such as Saganaki, which is a hard, white Greek cheese topped with oregano, olive oil and lemon juice and served sizzling to the table, or Gigantes, which are giant beans with carrots, celery, onion and tomato sauce.
The dinner menu lists each item in Greek and then gives an English description. So Brizola hirini is a pork chop, Arnisio bifteki is a lamb burger and Paidakia is a lamb chop There is a rotisserie oven onsite for fresh, roasted chicken.
The fish option on the menu is flown in from Greece and served whole with head, fins and tail (it can also be a deboned filet). The gyro is pork, as lamb meat is never used in Greece, and is served with fries, Tzatziki sauce and pita bread, all homemade.
“That pita bread is the toughest thing we make from scratch,” Madeckas said. “Rolling it out is a huge pain, but the taste is worth it.”
The full bar has plenty of North Carolina craft beers and California wines, but there are also Greek favorites as well. There are two Greek beers, Mythos and Fix, and several Greek wines. The cocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices and homemade syrups with a bit of a twist.
There is also a Sunday brunch buffet from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with omelets, quiches, pork loin, Greek cookies and more.
Overall, the restaurant is a Mediterranean marvel with generous portions, farm fresh fare and sublime service. The name comes from Estia, who is the Greek Goddess of hospitality, and kouzina, which means kitchen.