Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen Spring was prepared for the September 10,

2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Out to Lunch: Zorba’s Brother

Zorba’s Brother, a brand new Greek restaurant directly

opposite Nassau Hall, is a second generation Phoenix. Its sibling,

Zorba’s Grill, the busy take-out place next to Thomas Sweet, was open

just a short time before it was reduced to ashes, or if not ashes,

then enough soot to stop its flow of gyros and cheese steaks.

"Forty days, just forty days," says owner E. Fikaris. The

biblical number was the span that elapsed between the time he rang

up his first sale and time the upscale American Diner three doors

down was (allegedly) torched. The lengthy, high-profile arson

investigation

that followed centered around the diner, co-owned by "Crazy

Eddie"

Antar of discount appliance fame, in which the fire started.

Zorba’s wasn’t seriously damaged, yet it took its landlord, Princeton

University, three years to rebuild the multi-use building in which

it occupies the northeast corner.

Upon his return, Fikaris turned his tiny restaurant into a popular

place. Some customers took their Greek salads or omelette hoagies

to nearby outdoor tables, but most just walked briskly away with brown

paper bags. His take-out place a success, Fikaris started looking

for a larger place in which to create a much more ambitious

restaurant.

He has now found it in the generous space most recently occupied by

the Ebenezer Coffee Company, and before that by Einstein Bagels.

Fikaris

did all of the renovation and decoration work at Zorba’s Brother

himself.

Blessed with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows all across its front

wall, the restaurant looks straight into Princeton’s busy main gate.

Creating the feel of a sunny Greek village, Fikaris chose bright

yellow

wallpaper for the walls. "It looks like European stucco,"

he points out. The walls are decorated with prints, including a

gorgeous

sea and village scene, "Indoors with the Window Open," by

French artist Raoul Dufy, that Fikaris found in forays to antique

shops and flea markets.

Most seating is in booths that accommodate two, four, or six. There

are also tables, for two or four, in the middle of the room. Fikaris

does the cooking, while his daughter, Elena, takes care of the front

of the house.

On a recent day he pauses long enough to bring copies of two diplomas

out from the kitchen. One, dated 1958, shows him as a slight, handsome

14-year-old graduate of a two-and-a-half-year culinary program. The

later diploma, dated 1969, shows him as a young man. The second

diploma,

he explains, was granted not just for cooking, but also for restaurant

management. He holds a third diploma in culinary arts, also, he says.

At the time he was learning his trade in Greece, the country was in

turmoil. "First there was World War II," he says, "and

then the civil war. It was horrible. It was like Iraq. There was no

work. Unemployment was 95 percent." So Fikaris came to America,

and has been working in the Princeton area for over 30 years.

The menu at his new restaurant includes a large selection of salads

and vegetarian platters. There are also the sandwiches that Zorba’s

Grill does so well, including burgers — turkey and veggie, as

well as beef — club sandwiches, and hoagies. Prices for the

sandwiches

run about $5, and salads are about the same.

With cool weather just around the corner, Zorba’s Brother’s hearty

Greek specialties look mighty appealing. They include moussaka,

pastichio, spanakopita, tyropita, and taramosalata. Homemade soups are

bound to be a big fall draw too. Other choices, particularly at

dinner, include a full range of seafood, chicken, and lamb platters,

priced from under $10 up to about $14, including salad or soup.

The restaurant is open seven days a week. "You have to be,"

says Fikaris, "you can’t afford to lose a day." Working 5

a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, even longer than he did as a young unpaid

apprentice in Greece, he serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but

has not yet set his hours of operation.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Zorba’s, 80 Nassau Street, 609-279-0999. Credit cards

are accepted for checks of $10 or more at this sit-down, BYOB

restaurant.


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