11225 Montgomery NE • 323-2695 Zorba’s Express (for takeout): 323-2705
Heights Village shopping center at Montgomery and Juan Tabo is getting an infusion of new energy. Zorba's Fine Greek Dining is in the space adjacent to Il Vicino and only steps away from Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Zorba's opened its doors only days before the newest Sunflower Market held its grand opening on June 1 in the space formerly anchored by Western Warehouse.
I scan the signboard outside the restaurant door, and the fragrance of Greek cooking draws me in. The menu items—gyros, souvlaki, taramosalata, leg of lamb, lentil soup—ring familiar, and no wonder. Taking my order at the register is Madeline, formerly of the Olympia Café on Central near UNM campus. Her husband's parents sold the Central Avenue restaurant about a year and a half ago, after more than 35 years of business there. Now Madeline, her husband Greg, and his parents Spiro and Marina Counelis are the family behind Zorba's. I notice some new seafood items and desserts on the long menu, an expanded take on the old Olympia offerings. But I decide to stick with comfort food, paying for my meal and taking a number to a table. The waitstaff brings iced tea and roast chicken, complete with roasted potatoes and a little dish of Greek salad.
“We went from the ’60s decor at the Olympia to a more modern look.”
I savor the meal and tell myself, “Same great food—and plenty of parking!”
It’s three in the afternoon, and the rush is over. Zorba’s has been busy since it opened at Heights Village, with new customers and old friends beating a path to the door. Marina Counelis walks in, flush from a morning foraging for dandelion greens in the foothills near their home. When asked how much she harvested, she spreads her arms wide. “But they cook down,” she says.
They won’t be on the menu at Zorba’s. She’ll cook them up for her husband. I ask how she prepares them. She tells me she cleans and trims them, boils them, and tosses them with olive oil and some lemon juice; tonight, she’ll serve them with fresh fish for dinner. She recommends buying small fish with the heads still on so you know the eyes are clear and the fish is fresh.
We talk about Zorba’s and the transition to a larger, more contemporary location. I ask what prompted them to bring their trademark homestyle cooking to the Northeast Heights. Spiro Counelis replies that it’s time to get things going for the next generation. They want to take it a little easier, and a friend found this location nearer to their home. The space has a lot of elbow room and a generous patio. They’ve kept the decor homey and reminiscent of Greece with a large mural, faux indoor window boxes and Greek statuary around the room. Madeline says, “We went from the ’60s decor at the Olympia to a more modern look.”
I leave sated, humming the Theodorakis theme song from Zorba the Greek.