*Photos by Rebecca Norden & Caleb Condit
You’ve got to admire a restaurant like Paros Estiatorio. The sprawling menu has about as many Greek words as it does English. Almost any fish you order will come to your table grilled whole and bone-in. And the cocktail list features a fair amount of obscure Greek liqueurs, from metaxa (oak-aged Muscat wine liqueur) to tsipouro (unaged brandy similar to Italian grappa).
It’s a gutsy move forcing diners to step so far out of their comfort zone inside the former Room 39 space at Leawood’s Mission Farms — especially with fine dining price tags attached. But one taste of the hot, salty spanakopita with its paper-thin crepe layers and you’ll agree: Paros Estiatorio is an adventure worth taking.
Paros is the newest venture from Kozeta “Cozy” Kreka, the chef and owner behind long-running family eatery Cozy’s Café in Overland Park. The menu in OP is mainstream — omelets, chicken salad, lasagna — and the vibe is friendly and casual. At her new venture, Kozeta partnered with her son, Klajdi, and the two reimagined what authentic Greek food could look like for a modern Midwestern crowd.
Kozeta grew up just twenty-five minutes from the border of Greece in Pogradec, Albania. She met and married her husband there, and Klajdi was born there, too. The Kreka family emigrated to the United States over twenty years ago, settling in Kansas City. Paros is the first restaurant for the mother-son duo, and it’s been several years in the making: Kozeta and Klajdi have long been compiling research, ideas and recipes for this love letter to their homeland.
Klajdi spent over a decade working as a manager in the milling science industry. He left his job at General Mills in September, just a month before Paros Estiatorio opened. As front-of-house manager, he’s a familiar presence in the sixty-five-seat dining room, frequently stopping by tables and welcoming guests to his restaurant. The restaurant has enjoyed a steady stream of curious diners since it opened in October, and most of them have found Paros Estiatorio through word of mouth.
The Krekas have given their space a major overhaul. Amanda Kreka, Klajdi’s wife, is responsible for the bright palate of white, gray and cobalt — the dominant colors one might find on the Greek island of Paros, where the Kreka family takes vacations. (“Estiatorio” is Greek for restaurant.) Accents are tasteful: green plants, paintings of sailboats on the Aegean. It clearly presents as a Greek restaurant but not the kind where you smash plates at the end of your meal. Everything about Paros Estiatorio eschews kitsch, from the sprigs of rosemary tucked into the folded linen at your seat to the stately stone bust of Aristotle. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy, say, The Med — a cocktail with ouzo, basil, mint and lemon that’s as refreshing as a splash in the sea it was named for.
Start your meal with the mezes. These tempting appetizers are the best introduction to Greek food, and Kozeta’s recipes will give you the measure of her cooking. Most servers will push the oktapodi, and they are right to do so: The char on the bite-sized pieces of octopus gives it just a touch of the grill, and they are positioned prettily around a beurre blanc sauce dotted with pomegranate seeds and fennel fronds. Kozeta is tender with her octopus, and each piece is bright and delicate — a fine front for the deep flavors she achieves.
Cheese stars in quite a few Greek dishes, and Kozeta imports the real thing for her saganaki. A thick cut of kefalograviera, a tangy sheep’s milk cheese, is dredged in flour, doused in bourbon and set ablaze tableside. Envious eyes will trail this dish on its way to your table, but this showstopper tastes even better than it looks — all gooey and salty, like a grown-up mozzarella stick. The sesame feta cheese comes warm with a quartered fig so fresh it feels as though it has just been plucked. Of course, it’s not a Greek restaurant if spanakopita isn’t on the menu, and Kozeta’s pie is perfection. Layers of paper-thin filo, sweet spinach and leeks, and crumbly feta have never tasted better. I was less impressed by the zucchini cakes, which were not crispy as advertised but rather soggy with oil.
Salads are simple, as they ought to be. Horiatiki is classically Greek, a combination of marinated tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, olives and — of course — a hefty brick of feta. It’s a solid combination, but it’s somewhat unrefined next to the dainty grilled peach salad, with its elegant poppyseed dressing and warm peach slices.
Decisions get harder as you work your way toward entrees. Paros Estiatorio has broken down its mains into four categories: Pastas, From the Oven, From the Land and From the Sea, with four to six dishes in each bracket. It’s an abundance that borders on excessive, as though the Krekas would like to educate their diners on the entire four-thousand-year history of Greek cuisine all in one sitting. That seems, in part, their goal — and they are not unsuccessful in their instruction.
I concentrated on some of the classics. There was moussaka, an unbelievably good casserole of layered eggplants, sliced potatoes, zucchini and ground beef encased in a bechamel crust and splashed with lamb jus. Another beef casserole, the pastitsio, replaced the vegetables in the moussaka with bucatini noodles, and though it may have gone over well at a potluck, it was out of place on a table packed with so many robust flavors. The fasoulada, a fava bean stew with an origin story tracing back to Greek mythology, bucks tradition by adding braised pork chunks. It was tasty, and the beans imported from Santorini were a nice touch, but it was not substantial enough to be sold as an entree.
At first bite, I thought the lobster pasta would be sublime. The bucatini noodles had been tossed in a rich, thick cherry tomato and fennel sauce and dusted liberally with parmesan, and I was sure that if the pasta was this good, the lobster — a whole tail steamed, expertly pulled from its shell and proudly positioned in the center of the plate — would be worth the forty-two dollars I was paying for it. Alas, I found it had been forgotten in the boiling water, and what should have been buttery and tender meat was rubbery and tough. A shame.
On my second visit, my server could not tell me which lamb entree he liked better — only that lamb is the main protein in Greek food, more popular than any other meat — so I sampled both. Three grilled lamb chops, more fat than lamb, were arranged atop a pile of olive oil-fried potato wedges that needed salt, and the whole dish begged for some kind of sauce to offset the blandness. The lamb shank, on the other hand, was a superb example of Greek comfort food: lamb braised for hours in red wine that falls from the bone at the pass of a fork, served with tender carrots and feta mashed potatoes that should become the household standard. (Mixing feta cheese into mashed potatoes is not novelty. Kladji says he’s seen it in a lot of Greek meals, but he particularly remembers his grandmother doing it.)
And then there is the fish. Paros Estiatorio offers seafood cooked the way you’d get it if you were dining at a seaside taverna, scales, fins, bones and all (except for the salmon — don’t worry, that one is just a filet). If you are unaccustomed to disassembling your dinner, just call for the chef. Kozeta, in her pristine white coat, will emerge from the kitchen and, in a blink, cheerfully strip your snapper of its spine. The snapper, by the way, is excellent: lean, firm, mildly sweet and perfect with squeezed lemon juice. The dourado was my favorite. A Mediterranean fish related to mahi-mahi, i’s small in stature but boasts a big, meaty flavor.
Desserts at Paros are mostly hits. The Greek yogurt is made in-house and tastes as rich as panna cotta, and the gorgeous olive oil cake feels like a warm hug from your yiayia. The rice pudding was off-putting, like lukewarm oatmeal. The baklava more than made up for it: Kozeta’s decadent take on the flaky, honeyed, nut-filled pastry is the kind of dessert that sends you home happy.
I found a lot to love at Paros Estiatorio, not the least of which was some of the best octopus I’ve had in recent memory and plenty of Greek charm from the Kreka family. I found a few things that could use refinement. The price points here are steep for mains that can be uneven. This might even be expected considering the hours Kozeta is pulling. She’s at Cozy’s Café during the day and Paros Estiatorio every night. And it’s easy to forgive rough edges that have been folded into family recipes that have been passed down through generations.
More than anything, I’m grateful for what the Krekas are endeavoring with this restaurant. There’s not much like this in the local market, and the interest in and support for Paros Estiatorio so far is a strong sign that Kansas Citians are craving more — and different — flavors.
The oktapodi ($21) and the saganaki ($16) are musts. Get the moussaka ($24) as a share plate, and go for the agiorgitiko (lamb shank, $34) and tsipoura ($35). And for the love of Zeus, don’t forget the baklava ($9).
GO: 10561 Mission Road, Leawood. Open 11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 am-10 pm Saturday and 9:30 am-9 pm Sunday. Closed Monday. parosleawood.com