WHAT DID YOU DO WITH CLEVELAND'S LUNCH?
We packed it up and put it away, but only sort of. We still do Cleveland's breakfasts, which you can order through lunchtime. Tell you what, at first the breakfasts were selling better, but the last couple of weeks we've seen a big change. We're selling more Greek lunch combinations and gyros than omelets. Women especially come in looking for lighter entrees for lunch - they've discovered our nice selection of Greek plates.
We had to change with the neighborhood. Cleveland's meant a lot to a lot of old-timers, but it didn't mean much to even more folks. New people moving into the new condos don't know Cleveland's history. We've also gained customers who've worked downtown for years and were afraid to come in before. Our makeover's increased our customer base. I wanted a warm, funky feel - I didn't want it too Greeky with stupid little knicknacks, the plates painted with Greek gods you see in every Greek restaurant in Chicago. Our old regulars are pleasantly surprised. They thought they'd miss the old place, but once they come in they forget quickly. The food they want hasn't changed. The American fries are still the American fries, the Greek omelet's still the Greek omelet. The taverna's laid back and inviting. It can be any place you want it to be, including Cleveland's, which you can still smell as you walk through the door.
OUZO BURGER? REALLY?
Yeah, it's good. Pure ground Angus with fresh mint, garlic, grated onion, salt and pepper. I bathe it in ouzo and roll it up in balls to make eight-ounce patties. You can definitely taste the ouzo, but it's mild. Most people can't picture it palate-wise. They're scared of that licorice flavor, but once they try it they get over their fear.
Another specialty is my mom's moussaka. She still lives on Spaight St., where we grew up. She was more worried than I was when we decided to turn Cleveland's into Plaka Taverna, but now that we have her making three huge pans of moussaka every week she realizes we did the right thing.
Compared to the bigger Greek restaurant we opened in Sun Prairie [Atlantis Taverna], we've kept the menu simple. Typical tavernas in Greece just offer a few little things that they can change depending on what's fresh at the market. I haven't rotated my menu like that yet, but eventually I'll probably get into it. Most of my small-plate items are grilled. They aren't necessarily Greek, but the way they're marinated gives 'em that Mediterranean flavor. The chicken, lamb and pork kabobs are done in white wine, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.
SO, TELL ME EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT OUZO.
I really don't know that much. It's distilled in different parts of Greece. The flavor is a regional characteristic. The differences are in the smoothness and how many times they press the grapes. Lesbos island produces a lot of ouzo; so does Macedonia. The island ouzos are milder than the ones from northern Greece.
In Sun Prairie we've developed some ouzo drinks with grapefruit and lemonade, but we haven't promoted those here. People are drinking it the traditional way. You pour a little water into your ouzo and sip. It's not meant to be chugged.