When Alexa Apostolidis began working as a chef in the United States, her goal was to learn cuisines from all over the world and bring her knowledge back to her home country of Greece.
“I have worked with a lot of chefs from different countries and states,” said Apostolidis. “The good thing is you travel the whole world if you just travel in the U.S. because you can taste everyone’s culture.”
But her goal changed. Now, she prepares Greek-based dishes for diners from all over the world, including Greece, who make South Florida their home.
As the executive chef of Edgewater restaurant Kouzina, or “kitchen” in English, she is the mastermind behind the menu that offers dishes cooked with traditional Greek ingredients but prepared with her own accent.
Take the $10 bacalao croquettes, part of the meze offerings, or small plates intended to whet the appetite. Traditionally, the dish is prepared with cod fried in butter with boiled beets and a garlic puree.
Using three traditional Greek ingredients – cod, beets and garlic – Apostolidis gave them a twist by preparing the salted cod in the form of croquettes.
“I also make the roasted garlic puree with chick peas. The beets, instead of being boiled, I roast them and make them into the puree,” she said. “It has a different take but the same traditional Greek ingredients. When I was making the menu, I was thinking it will be in South Florida. So croquettes are something that a lot of Latin people like.”
The $12 calamari basil pesto, another dish made with Greek ingredients but prepared with a twist to traditional recipes, is composed of sautéed calamari with basil pesto and kataifi phyllo.
Traditionally, kataifi phyllo is a pastry prepared with sugar and nuts wrapped inside shredded phyllo dough, said Apostolidis. The pastry is then baked and topped with syrup. But for the calamari basil pesto dish, Apostolidis cooks the dough until it becomes crispy and puts it on top of the calamari.
While basil pesto is not a traditional Greek dish, “there is an enormous amount of basil in every Greek household,” she said. “So I made the calamari with basil pesto.”
But diners who visit Kouzina in hopes of enjoying quintessential Greek food will not be disappointed.
Daily specials always offer traditional Greek cuisine. On a recent visit to the restaurant, guests dined on tomatoes and peppers stuffed with rice and herbs and on braised beef in tomato sauce and hilopites, a Greek-imported egg noodle.
Traditional Greek items on the everyday menu include the $6 tzatziki, the $7 eggplant spread, the $9 Vlahotyri cheese saganaki and the $12 Greek salad.
“We do have the Greek salad but there are more things than the Greek salad and moussaka in Greek cuisine,” said Apostolidis.
She as well as Kouzina co-owner Yiannis Sotiropoulos said since the restaurant opened in March, it has been well-received by South Florida diners.
“Our food is very healthy and a lot of people here are very health conscious,” said Apostolidis. “It is very straightforward and not pretentious.”
A signature Greek cooking style, said Apostolidis, is to make a dish’s main ingredient the star.
“We just complement the main ingredient, we don’t cover the meat,” she said, adding that traditional dishes from other countries often add heavy cream, hollandaise or peppercorn sauce that cover the main ingredient, which is usually meat or fish.
“Greek food is more healthy with the olive oil, with the fresh salads and the fresh ingredients,” said Sotiropoulos. “And now, with the Mediterranean diet that’s very good for people.”
Many of the menu’s ingredients, including the salt, oregano, olive oil, cheeses, yogurt, pasta and tomato paste are imported from Greece. Fish on the menu is generally imported from farms in the Aegean Sea.
Some of the beverage choices are Greek imports, including Boutari Moschofilero wine sold for $8 a glass or $32 for the bottle, and the Mythos beer sold for $5 a glass.
Even the furniture and the décor are imported from Greece – from the tables and chairs to the wall art. Diners can finish their meal with a $4 Frappe, a Greek foam-covered iced coffee.
“The important thing is to be original and showcase the Greek ingredients in not the same manner as the other Greek restaurants but present it in a different way,” said Apostolidis. "We don’t have a copy-and-paste menu from everywhere else. We have our own accent."