Chef combines family and culinary flair
Updated: January 23, 2013 9:12AM
Now here’s a pop quiz in time for a Roditis (not champagne) January New Year. What’s the color of Greek Roditis wine? Rose? White out that response. Greek roditis wine is white, says Louie Alexakis of Winnetka, chef/owner of Avli Estiatorio at 566 Chestnut Ave. Alexakis, a Winnetka resident, and his wife Maria have two sons, Lefteri, 11, a Skokie School fifth-grader, and Kostas, 8, a Crow Island School third-grader. Louie’s father-in-law is Kostas Couchell, owner of the Chicago Greek Islands restaurant, where Louie was general manager for 11 years until 2006. Alexakis is proud of Avli’s hostess staff which includes Alexandra Veleris, a Lake Forest College sophomore, and Joanna Veleris, a New Trier H.S. senior, both of Wilmette. The weekend hostess is Hannah Papageorge of Winnetka. Avli supports many Winnetka and North Shore causes such as the Woman’s Club of Wilmette.
Q. How does Avli cuisine speak to your roots?
A. Well, it’s a Greek restaurant with a little bit of a modern twist, and that’s something that I started, oh, 20 years ago when I had my first restaurant in Lincoln Park (Ouzeri). The idea, even back then, was to take classic Greek dishes but either change slightly the presentation or the ingredient mix. You know, I was a little ahead of my time. I was Greek tapas. Back in 1995, we had 60 small plates of food. We had an all Greek wine list, which today, not only do I have here in the restaurant, but also for three years, we received an award of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.
Q. Has Avli found a perfect home in Winnetka’s landmark, The Laundry Mall?
A. I moved in to the area about eight or nine years ago and I had been consciously looking for a space around here and I fell in love with it when I stumbled upon it.
Q. Describe that beef dish on your menu.
A. There’s a wonderful traditional dish called Kapama, which relates to the kind of sauce that is used. It’s a cinnamon tomato sauce. You can serve it over chicken, over lamb or beef. We’re doing beef right now. Traditionally, those types of dishes are served with a meat that perhaps needs a long amount of time to become tender, to make a flavorful dish out of not so really the best cut of meat. What we’ve done instead is start with boneless beef short rib which is just a great cut of meat to begin with.
Q. Where is your family from (in Greece)?
A. I was born in Florida. My mother (Lillian) is from a small village just southeast of Sparta. My father (Lefteri) grew up in the southern Peloponnese. The family at some point a couple hundred years ago was from Crete as our last name is a Cretan last name. My wife’s father (Kostas) is the owner of the Greek Islands restaurant downtown. That’s a usual thing in Greek culture, both of our sons are named after the male grandparent.
Q. Wow, that’s quite some family tree …
A. Didn’t say it would be easy! Even though there are so few Greeks in the world, we make it as complicated as possible. You know, we’re not from, you know, Galway.