Niko’s Greek Grille is a family affair

Published on: July 22, 2015

By LISA STARK

Owner and chef Nate Alexopoulous slices tender gyro meat in the kitchen of Niko’s Greek Grille. Lisa Stark photos.

Owner and chef Nate Alexopoulous slices tender gyro meat in the kitchen of Niko’s Greek Grille. Lisa Stark photos.

There’s a family feel at Niko’s Greek Grille on Shell Point Road in Ruskin, and it’s no wonder. Opened in March by chef Nate Alexopoulous, 28, his sister, Effie, and brother Greg, the restaurant resonates with Greek authenticity that can only come from time-honored family traditions.

“Ninety-nine percent of our menu items are family recipes, the food that we grew up with in our home,” said Nate. “We’ve put our own twist on things, but, basically, we have Grandma and our parents to thank for our dishes.”

Originally from Argos, Greece, a city considered to be in the network of the most ancient towns in Europe, Nate’s parents emigrated to the U.S. and met in Chicago, where they worked together in the same factory. After the couple married, they moved into the restaurant business, opening a small American diner with a few Greek dishes sprinkled in. Nate, who grew up in Tarpon Springs and graduated from Tarpon Springs High School, wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

“Our family previously owned two diners in Florida, but this is the first time I’ve been able to open an exclusively all-Greek restaurant. I’m excited about the opportunity — this is really where my heart is,” he said.

With traditional Greek favorites such as pastichio, moussaka, dolmades, gyros, spanakopita, and keftedes, Nate hopes to capture the hearts (and stomachs) of local residents as well.

“This has been a great addition to the area as there are no other Greek restaurants around here,” said Sun City Center resident Denise Falsetti. “We ordered the kalamari, which was lightly breaded in a tempura batter, and the Tour of Greece platter, which gives you a little bit of everything. Everything was delicious, our server was wonderful, and we couldn’t have been more pleased.”

Jake and Amy Gaubert of Apollo Beach prepare to sample the Saganaki, or “flaming cheese,” appetizer at Niko’s Greek Grille.

Jake and Amy Gaubert of Apollo Beach prepare to sample the Saganaki, or “flaming cheese,” appetizer at Niko’s Greek Grille.

Amy Gaubert and son Jake Gaubert of Apollo Beach agreed. “This is our first visit to Niko’s,” she said, “and so far everything has been great. We chose the saganaki, which is one of our favorite appetizers.”

The flaming cheese dish [saganaki] is definitely a customer favorite, said server George Sarantopoulos. “People love to yell ‘Opa!!’ while we light the cheese with brandy. They have a lot of fun with it.”

Diners can choose from a complete menu that includes soups and salads, appetizers and spreads, sandwiches, or hearty meal platters served with vegetables, rice and potatoes. “There’s something for everyone,” said Nate, whose goal is to cater to both lunch and dinner crowds. “We serve everything from octopus, shrimp, and scallops to filet mignon and roast leg of lamb. Whatever your taste, we have it.”

The décor of Niko’s Greek Grille is modest and unpretentious yet brings an authentic Greek ambiance to the neighborhood. Nate attributes this to growing up within the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, where a major percentage of the population is of Greek heritage.

“A lot of people don’t know that Tarpon Springs has the highest percent of Greeks per populace in the United States, even beating out Chicago and New York,” he said. Still a member of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tarpon Springs, Nate remains strongly connected to his roots, and still visits his family members in Greece every summer.

A popular item at Niko’s is the moussaka, a baked layered dish of potato, eggplant, beef and bechamel.

A popular item at Niko’s is the moussaka, a baked layered dish of potato, eggplant, beef and bechamel.

“I may not get to go this summer for the first time ever,” he said, laughing. “After all, somebody has to stay behind to run the restaurant.” He seemed to agree that this would be a small price to pay for success in his new business.

Niko’s Greek Grille is open daily for lunch and dinner, and welcomes new customers to try out their distinctive Greek fare. For more information about Niko’s Greek Grille, call 813-645-5946 or visit the restaurant at 105 E. Shell Point Road in Ruskin.

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