Food Fighter

Time and again, Valley restaurant legend Nick Ligidakis has cooked his own goose. Will Cafe Niko be another overtrimmed turkey?

(San Carlos general manager Devon Connors tells a different story. She claims the hotel was willing to work with Ligidakis on the Thanksgiving dinners, but by that point his operation was in such a shambles the project was unfeasible.)

"Right up to the end, he was still talking about doing his turkey thing," says Melikian. "He can't afford to pay his own light bill and he's worried about feeding others? It just doesn't make sense. Like I said, nobody can tell this guy anything."

Nick Ligidakis, meanwhile, has plenty to tell. Which he does, at considerable length, in 5024 E. McDowell, the self-revelatory opus published earlier this year.

"Writing my book was a therapeutic experience," says Ligidakis of the self-published work he's marketing as a "story cookbook about the creativity of the mind, the survival of the spirit, and the compassion."

"I put so much of my heart into the writing that when I was done with the book, my mind is a blank," he confesses. "I was numb."

Stoic readers who manage to make it to the end of Ligidakis' nearly 350-page epic are likely to share that reaction.

Subtitled A Man's Journey Into Culinary Exploration, the book does not easily fit into any one literary genre. Part autobiography, part cookbook, part apologia, the hefty tome is probably best described as Deepak Chopra Meets a Saucepan--the sort of thing Somerset Maugham might have cooked up if he'd sprinkled The Razor's Edge with recipes, Biblical quotes, photos of coconut fried shrimp and food factoids ("Red wine vinegar is produced from red wine").

Leaping back and forth between revisionist history and personal philosophy to Food Science 101, Ligidakis reveals a metaphysical side to himself that will come as a revelation to those who know him only as a glowering Greek Adonis riding roughshod over a bevy of blazing skillets.

"Creating is a great accomplishment, but it is not easy to obtain without the motivation of love to please others as well as yourself," he writes in a chapter titled "Imagination, Respect and Sensitivity." "Only the love will inspire you with the passion which allows you to imagine and then create hundreds of glorious tastes."

But glorious tastes aren't the only thing Ligidakis is capable of creating.
In his book, Ligidakis spends an entire chapter pondering the meaning of Christmas--a date he claims holds special significance for him. "It was that same day many years ago that I, as a newborn, had seen the light of life for the first time and placed a smile on my parents' heart forever," he writes. "I thought, well, what a special day to be born on!"

Far more special, apparently, than December 24--the date of birth that actually appears on Ligidakis' driver's license.

Asked about the discrepancy, Ligidakis lays the blame on his parents' doorstep, claiming that even though he was born in the early hours of Christmas Day, his parents chose to say he was born the day before.

Explains Ligidakis, "The Greeks and their birthdays, we don't emphasize them as much."

These days, Nick Ligidakis' focus is on Cafe Niko, a boĒte aimed at what he calls "the purist of good food."

Quizzed about financial backing for the place, Ligidakis will only say that one of his more well-to-do customers thought it was "important" that his food be available to the public once again.

"I do not want another restaurant where I do not know everybody's name," says Ligidakis. "I had that on Thomas [Road], and it almost killed me. I'm a very down-to-earth person, and I know what my capacities are."

For now, that's his 40-seat cafe in OfficeMax Plaza.
"There will be no more big restaurants in my life again," Ligidakis insists. "This is my final place."

On second thought, make that his next-to-final place; a lot of customers are requesting pizza and calzones.

"I might open another little place--just pizza and calzones--down the street," says Ligidakis, thinking aloud. "My boys could run it; pizza and calzones are a no-brainer. What could happen?

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