Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
A new “modern” Greek restaurant is slated to open in downtown Huntington in January 2018. Located in the new market at 809 Third Avenue, it will feature an eclectic blend of Greek-influenced fusion cuisine in a delightfully hip atmosphere.
The idea for Navarino Bay comes from the mind of Yiorgie Alexandropoulos, who has spent the larger part of his life learning the craft of cooking in the traditions of the old country. A second-generation Huntingtonian and graduate of Marshall University, he is now looking to branch out from the food he has enjoyed all his life with some more experimental offerings.
I sat down with Mr. Alexandropoulos to get the inside scoop on his new spot.
Aaron-Michael Fox: First off, congratulations!
Yiorgie Alexandropoulos: Thank you!
AMF: We’ve known each other a long time and your food has always been fantastic.
YA: Thank you again!
AMF: So my first question is, “modern” Greek? What would you say is the difference between “modern” Greek and “traditional” Greek?
YA: When you look at Greek food on the whole, to make anything Greek, you add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and oregano. And that’s great. It’s fantastic, but it’s also tired and old. The more modern aspect, like if you were to go to Greece and have something to eat, they’re experimenting over there. All different kinds of things with all different kinds of pairings. There’s a super pretentious billionaire yacht club over there in the Mediterranean and they have a competition every year for the chefs on the islands called “Greek Sushi.” It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. Made from fish harvested right out of the ocean and they’re making sushi out of it. Greek sushi. They’re doing lots of fusion cuisine over there, and that to me is “modern” Greek food.
AMF: So nothing traditional then?
YA: We’re going to have a few things that are seemingly traditional, but then they’re going to have a modern flavor to them. Like our souvlaki. A lot of people know souvlaki from (St. George Greek Orthodox Church) Greek Festival. They’ve gone to the Greek fest, they’ve had souvlaki there, but our souvlaki has a honey-oregano glaze on it with toasted sesame seeds. So it’s a little different, but it’s still delicious and it’s still Greek because we’re using Greek techniques with Greek ingredients. It’s the same things that make Greece what it is; we’re just shifting the pot a little bit.
YA: A lot of people don’t understand how much out there is Greek. Like quail. Quail is a big Greek staple. For the average American, or the American in the south, their thought process is like ‘Quail? I don’t know about that. It’s not chicken, pork, or steak,’ you know? So it’s different and some people aren’t ready to try it. But I’m going to have quail because that’s one of my biggest things about going to Greece. When you sit down to eat, there’s quail on the table. When my aunts and uncles visit, the first thing they do is find quail somewhere. It’s a huge Greek staple that’s completely underrated.
AMF: I’ve never had quail, but I’m looking forward to trying it.
YA: So that’s what we’re going after. And Greeks love cheese, so there’s going to be a lot of cheese in everything, you know? Like our thyme quinoa with melted valbreso cheese and spinach. It’s probably one of the best quinoas I’ve ever had. And it’s just something I threw together on a whim. Quinoa isn’t necessarily a Greek ingredient, but it’s a vessel for the other ingredients, which is what I’m trying to do here.
AMF: So why did you pick the name ‘Navarino Bay’?
YA: Navarino Bay is a historical place in Greece. It’s the bay in which the city of Pylos is attached, which is about 10 minutes from my grandmother’s house. The bay is huge. It’s enormous. And it’s always been fought over by the Spanish, the Italians, and the French. So a lot of the food in Navarino Bay is influenced by Spain, Italy, and France. So you get a lot of things in Navarino that you don’t see anywhere else. The entire area has been influenced by the whole Mediterranean and it makes for this great melting pot.
AMF: Is that what your logo is supposed to represent?
YA: Absolutely. That’s why my logo has the Parthenon, the Coliseum, the Spanish bull, and the fleur-de-lis. Because it encompasses all of that.
AMF: Awesome! And people already know your cooking from the Greek Festival.
YA: A lot of people know me from Greek Festival, but also from the other restaurants I’ve worked in and the catering I do.
AMF: Very cool.
YA: And we’re going to have a lot of vegan and vegetarian options as well. A lot of places around Huntington, I’m not going to say they don’t cater to vegetarians, but they don’t offer enough. But luckily, with the Mediterranean diet, you can just take the meat out of it and it’s just as delicious. We might even come up with a vegetarian gyro.
AMF: Maybe baba ghanoush?
YA: No. That’s a different part of the Mediterranean. That’s why I called this restaurant ‘modern Greek’ instead of ‘Mediterranean.’ Mediterranean has a bad rep around this area because of several failed businesses from the past. They typically went with more of a southeastern Mediterranean influence, which is all of your Arabic world foods. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but they don’t lend themselves to restaurant preparation very well.
AMF: Speaking of, you’ll be making everything in house, right?
YA: Pretty much. I’m going to say 90-95% of our menu will be made from scratch. And not only will it be made from scratch, it will be prepped right when the order comes in. Luckily, with Greek food and modern cooking, you can do things real quick right on the go.
AMF: Excellent! I’ll be at opening day and I’ll be wearing pants with a loose waistband.
YA: Thanks! See you then.