This week brings news of the return of two old friends, restaurants whose many years of successful operation had made them local institutions before closing in recent months. Both restaurants are returning under new management, but both aim to preserve the spirit of the original.
In Durham, the stoves have been cold since last May in the kitchen of the Brightleaf Square space that Taverna Nikos (905 W. Main St.; 682-0043) occupied for 17 years. Pending health inspections, the burners should fire up again by the end of the month.
Owner Bill Bakis was forced to close the restaurant when business partner Bill Kalyvas became too ill to run it. Bakis had just opened Nikos Taverna, a second restaurant in Morrisville, which was demanding all his attention. He put out word that he was looking for a new partner and executive chef to run the Durham original. He found one in Georgios Kastanias, a native of Greece who has worked in restaurants all over Europe, from Switzerland to the Greek island resorts (and more recently at Taverna Agora in North Raleigh).
After familiarizing himself with the workings of the Morrisville kitchen, Kastanias is putting his own touch on the menus for both restaurants.
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"I want to show people the real, authentic Greek food," he says. By way of example, he notes that "the bifteki [ground beef patties] that a lot of Greek restaurants in America serve tastes like McDonald's. In Greece, we mix the ground beef with onions, milk, cheese, and a lot of herbs."
Kastanias is especially proud of his renditions of stifados (chicken stew scented with cinnamon and allspice) and kokkinisto arni (lamb shank braised in Greek wine, tomatoes and fresh herbs).
Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, new owner Jim Duignan expects to have Flying Burrito (746 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; 960-2922) airborne again by March in Midtown Market.
Duignan, who also owns Ba-Da Wings! in the same shopping center, is completely overhauling the space, and has hired Kent Snavely as chef. Snavely, who has worked in several area restaurants (Aurora and 411 West, to name two), is developing a seafood-focused menu of small plate offerings such as fried oyster tacos, shrimp, black bean and goat cheese quesadillas, and grilled scallops brushed with lemon cilantro vinaigrette.
Fans of the legendary Flying Mayan burrito needn't worry, however. Duignan has bought the rights to the old Flying Burrito recipes and is devoting a section of the menu to the erstwhile eatery's most popular burritos. Other favorite dishes will be resurrected as nightly specials. Speaking as a chilihead who has been going through Ultimate Raging Bull burrito withdrawal, I can't wait.