Greece 'n' Go

Can Tony Makridis find the right talent?

Won't some caring chef please come to Tony Makridis' rescue and take over his long-awaited Cafestia coffee house, pastry shop and bar? The owner of Phoenix's much-loved Greekfest has been teasing us for more than five years about the "any day now" opening of his Cafestia offshoot next door, but says he has yet to find the talent to run the kitchen. I keep hearing rumblings of activity, but as always, the cafe simply collects overflow from Makridis' popular dining room.

Makridis says he has interviewed and even hired a few chefs and managers, but none has been committed to his high expectations. "It's very simple, and very complex," he laments. "I can't run both Greekfest and Cafestia myself, but refuse to disappoint people with a less-than-excellent experience by hiring someone who won't shoulder the weight."

While he waits for the right person to come along, Makridis has been compulsively renovating Cafestia, an activity he now admits has been another stumbling block to success. Most recently, he removed windows to open up the room to an adjacent patio surrounded by Greek columns. "I can't stop," he says sheepishly.

Cafestia has renovated a patio for its long-awaited coffee house, pastry shop and bar.
Leah Fasten
Cafestia has renovated a patio for its long-awaited coffee house, pastry shop and bar.

What's left to fix, though? Since 1997, the cafe has been a gorgeous Byzantine-influenced creation of natural wood, leather and iron bar stools, marble floors and tables, cloud-painted ceilings and a huge, marble-topped bar with an ornate Greek coffee grinder.

And the menu (which I first heard about four years ago) sounds good, if it were ever to arrive: Greek pastries, light snacks and salads served from 7 a.m. to midnight. But, bonus to chefs: Makridis insists Cafestia would be very much "their" operation, and invites creative souls to take rein with the menu.

Cafestia's name is derived from Estia, the Hellenic goddess "to which life returns to be replenished." At this point, it might get a better jump-start if renamed Cafegaea, after the Greek goddess of birth and life.

Ever the optimist, however, Makridis instantly says "late this summer" when I ask him when, if ever, he thinks his cafe will actually open. "After all, the Parthenon took only 10 years to complete. I'd better get moving."

Ribbin' Cutting: Well, tickle my gizzards -- there's soul food in Chandler. Michael & Christi's Heavenly Soul Food opens this week in the former Fasta Pasta location on the northeast corner of Chandler and Dobson. Other than the primarily catering/to-go Michael's Down Home Barbecue at Price and Guadalupe, there's been little good old soul to gnaw on in this neighborhood.

Michael & Christi's is owned, appropriately enough, by Michael and Christi Miller. Chef Michael quit the electronics industry to follow his dream of being a restaurateur, Christi tells me, and will be serving up family recipes learned from his soul-serious sisters. It's a small spot, with just 55 seats, and if the food's as good as it sounds, the place should be SRO.

Lunch and dinner entrees include catfish, fried chicken gizzards and hearts, barbecue, country-fried chicken, ox tail, ham hocks, neck bones and Southern fried pork chops. I'm drooling just reading about the sides: classic red beans and rice, sweet potatoes, mustard greens, fried okra and corn bread.

Must-have items, says Christi, include the Monday through Saturday daily specials. Stop in on Wednesday for meat and grits casserole, on Friday for jambalaya and on Saturday for gumbo.

Name Game: Think it's difficult keeping track of your bank's ever-changing names? Just try and keep up with the revolving signage at the little coffee house at Eighth Street and Camelback. Today, it's called Punky's Corner Café. But just a few weeks ago, it was known as Florentine's. Six months ago, we knew it as Bagel Nosh. And a year or so before that, it was The Great Arizona Bagel Company.

The latest moniker, though, doesn't mean a change in ownership. Punky Jordan, who opened Florentine's in December, is still at the helm. It's a good-luck thing; a company she owned previously bore her name, too, and was very successful, she explains.

Check it out: Monday and Thursday are all-you-can-eat spaghetti nights, and on Friday and Saturday, Punky's "after-hours breakfast bar" is open until 4 a.m.

After Dinner Mint: Stanley's Homemade Polish Sausage Company is Phoenix's original Polish deli. Now, it's also home to Original Jurks.

Original Jurks is Stanley's newest product -- jerky. Within a month, the product will be available at 4,500 Circle K's from here to Oregon, co-owner Marko Stevanovic says. Five flavors will be offered, including turkey Jurky, beef, pepper, teriyaki and suicide.

Founded in 1963, Stanley's is famous for its sausages, of course, but also for its meats and imported groceries. Showcasing Eastern Europe "old country" recipes gathered over centuries and handed down from generation to generation, specialty items include beer salami, Hungarian head cheese, Hurka (Hungarian sausage) and a variety of bacons.

Stevanovic and his partner/father, Van, are busy boys lately. Negotiations also are underway to provide concessions at Bank One Ballpark and America West Arena. That would be cool -- we sure could use some top-notch eats at these venues.

 
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