By Jacqueline Hyman
Executive chef and partner George Pagonis finds inspiration for the season menu from his yearly visits to family in Greece.
“I feel like we’re definitely adding a spin to [Greek food] of just kind of refining it a little bit more, making it a little bit more fun to eat,” said Pagonis, who trained at The Culinary Institute of America.
Kapnos Taverna is only the second Greek restaurant within walking distance of campus, after the more casual Marathon Deli. There is another Kapnos Taverna location in Arlington, Virginia, as well as two sister restaurants called Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“I feel like our food is very different compared to some of the fare that is offered here in this area,” said Pagonis.“The thing that makes our food really great and what stands out is we do big, bold flavors.”
Senior government and politics major Ashwin Suryavanshi has visited the Bethesda location several times and said he was excited to hear a Kapnos was coming to College Park.
“I really love the small dishes, the kind of mezze style that they serve,” said Suryavanshi, who said it’s best to order several dishes when going with several people. “You could all share between them and choose the ones that you like and really just kind of broaden your horizons, try new things.”
Freshman computer science major Shevi Zak, who is vegetarian, said she strictly keeps kosher so there’s just a small chance of her visiting Kapnos.
“If it’s not certified kosher…it’s possible that I would. No guarantees, but I would probably try it at least once,” Zak said. “I like all food, I have no specific. Greek food sounds cool.”
While Kapnos is not kosher certified, Pagonis said chefs can be accommodating of people with dietary restrictions. They can make kosher-style, as well as dairy-free and gluten-free, meals. There are several vegetarian options on the menu. Pagonis said a lot of Jewish customers visit the Bethesda location. Last year, the restaurants made special menus for holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“I really control the Greek cooking, but when the Jewish holidays do come, I definitely seek assistance by my sous-chefs, who are Jewish,” Pagonis said. He said he asks Jewish sous-chefs about the foods they grew up eating. “I let them take the lead more on this, and I just oversee it and make sure it gets done properly.”
Freshman journalism major Lila Bromberg said she usually eats at the dining halls, but sometimes likes to go off-campus to Nando’s Peri Peri.
“I really like Greek and mediterranean food, so I guess for me … price would be the main factor,” said Bromberg, who is Reform Jewish but does not keep kosher.
Pagonis said Kapnos receives about 10 deliveries per day, between Greek food supplies like oils and cheeses, and local produce, meats and seafood. Additionally, the staff gets a wood delivery about once a week for the wood-fired grill.
“We use a lot of smoke in the flavor because ‘kapnos,’ at the end of the day, means ‘smoke’ in Greek,” Pagonis said.
Dinner menu items include flatbreads with spreads, spit-roasted meats, falafel and more. There is also a full bar with wine, beer and cocktails. The staff also plans to roll out game-day menus. The restaurant will open for brunch and lunch in the first two weeks of October, according to a press release. Pagonis said this is because he likes to make sure the restaurant opening goes smoothly.
“I feel like if you try to do too much of it at once, the possibilities of you messing it up [are] a lot higher than if you just kind of take [your] time with it and make sure it’s done right,” said Pagonis.
Although Pagonis said the staff is unsure what to expect in a college environment, he said he hopes it will be busy. Bromberg said she thinks the most important things to college students eating out are price and proximity. Suryavanshi also said often eats at places off-campus or in the Stamp Student Union. He agreed that Kapnos is a place he would likely go with his parents, who like the restaurant.
“I’m curious to see how it’ll do because I know it’s really good food,” said Suryavanshi. “It’ll just be interesting to see how many college kids will actually go eat there.”
One thing students shouldn’t worry about is a long wait, Pagonis said.
“You’d be surprised how fast the food comes out here. If you’re in a time crunch, that’s a different situation,” he said. “But for lunch, you could be in and out of here in 30 minutes. That’s guaranteed. I’m telling you, we got it down packed.”