Opa! Young Greeks find their Ithaka at restaurant

A new generation of Greek restaurateurs has landed in Victoria — and they’ve brought that trademark passion for good food and drink, culture and conversation and a treasure trove of family recipes.

Brothers Andreas and Dimitri Adamopoulos and their parents, Maria and Thomas, took over Passeros restaurant in the Harris Green neighbourhood last month from Frank and Yiannoula Zabaras.

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They moved from Kenora, Ont., where a sister continues to operate the Greek eatery the family has had for decades.

“This is a new beginning for our family,” says Dimitri, 37, who along with Andreas, 36, have changed the Yates Street restaurant’s name to Ithaka, after the Greek Island and the kingdom ruled by Odysseus in Homer’s classic poem.

“There is little more pleasing than to gather with those most dear to you, have a nice meal, perhaps a glass of wine, and share your story. ‘Find your own little Ithaka’ is a Greek expression. It means find your place. We found ours and we wish to share it with you.”

The Adamopoulos brothers are no strangers to Victoria. They lived here briefly during their elementary school years and later each attended high school here.

The family has known Frank and Yiannoula Zabaras for decades and struck a deal to buy Passeros earlier this year after Frank suffered a detached retina and decided it was time to retire.

The Zabaras family ran Passeros for 19 years, and the 55-seat restaurant was widely known for its authentic Greek food and the best roasted lamb and calamari in the city.

“We had lots and lots of regular customers and they will be missed,” says Frank, 60, who arrived from Greece at age 13 and worked his way up the industry, including stints at Milo’s and Peraklis, before starting Passeros. “We had a very good time in this restaurant, but it was a good time to pass it on.”

Frank will focus on his elaborate garden and four grandchildren, including a new set of twins, while Yiannoula — called the “heartbeat” of the Passeros kitchen — will stay on at Ithaka for the time being to help Maria Adamopoulos in the transition. All of the Passeros staff, some working there since the start, have been retained.

The Adamopoulos family say they will continue the Passeros tradition of authentic food, using a combination of the family’s recipes handed down through the generations. But food is only part of the business, says Andreas. They want to pass on Greek traditions and stories and share with diners how their food is prepared.

“Our family is a Big Fat Greek Wedding,” laughs Dimitri, referring to the sleeper 2002 movie of a tight-knit Greek family that became a box-office hit.

Added Andreas: “It is an extension of our home. We want to look after you. We work hard at this because it’s what we know. You eat with us and you are family.”

Maria Adamopoulos said most of her recipes have been handed down through generations of “yai-yai’s,” or Greek grandmothers, with each adding their own twists down the line. The key is starting with quality ingredients and making everything from scratch.

Ithaka is boosting its lunchtime menu. It features a dozen appetizers, including flambéed goat’s cheese and dry ribs, homemade soups and salads, Greek pita wraps, pastas, skewered meats and vegetarian choices. There are also “comfort foods” such as breaded veal cutlets and liver and onions as well as sandwiches and burgers.

The dinner menu is large with ample appetizers and salads, including the calamari that made Passeros a destination. The entrees are served with homemade bread and soups and prepared with Greek herbs and seasonings. Dinners range from rack of lamb and souvlakis to seafood and pastas. Huge platters with various combinations are best to get an overall taste.

 

Ithaka Greek Restaurant is at 1102 Yates St., at Cook Street. Call 250-384-6474.

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