Louie Alexakis has been dishing authentic Greek food at Avli in Winnetka for over a decade. But when it came to his latest act, opening a restaurant on a quaint corner of Lincoln Park, he was ready to go modern. The result is the newly unveiled Avli Taverna.
“It felt like coming home,” said Alexakis, who also ran Lincoln Park restaurant Ouzeri in the ’90s.
The 50-seat Avli Taverna, a collaboration with partners Fox Chicago sportscaster Lou Canellis and investor William V. Glastris Jr., is refreshingly minimalist with clean lines and birch tabletops. “Many restaurants [in Chicago] do traditional Greek,” he says. “We want to expose people to the creative side of Greece.”
Sure, you can expect classics, like saganaki and gyros. But there are a greater number of surprises. Imagine: orzo brimming with fresh seafood and kasseri cheese. You can also look forward to tableside ouzo pours and an all-Greek wine list and cocktail program designed by Peter Vestinos of Sepia. Breads and pastries are made in house, and a grab-and-go section and brunch menu will launch in spring.
Intrigued? Here’s what else you’ll find at this promising newbie.
Regional Specialties Most Greek restaurants in Chicago focus on one area of Greece. Avli wants to showcase them all, including the island of Crete, known for dishes like kalitsounia ($9), a sweet and savory cheese puff.
Reinvented Traditions The team consulted with Australian chef David Tsirekas (1821, Sydney) to make traditional dishes more contemporary. One idea was to flip iconic baklava on its head but keep the flavors. The result is homemade baklava ice cream ($8) – vanilla with a caramel, nutty center and wisps of phyllo dough.
Ancient Adaptations Tsierkas dug up a mousakka recipe from 1910 that uses whole roasted lamb shoulder instead of typical minced lamb. The result is a complex take on the dish ($19), highlighting the succulent lamb, smoky eggplant, and creamy béchamel.
Thoughtful Cocktails Typical Greek ingredients like dill, yogurt, and figs are paired with familiar spirits. One option, Teach Me to Dance ($12), infuses vodka with wild herb Greek tea and layers in bergamot orange, thyme, honey, and lemon.
1335 W. Wrightwood, 773-857-5577; avli.us
Photo by Kailley Lindman