Monday, April 22, 2024

Opa! Kipos keeps the food fresh, the drinks crisp, the atmosphere eclectic

A traditional drink to celebrate every occasion in Greek culture, ouzo’s bright licorice flavor brings a “gardeny” punch in a craft cocktail also featuring Blanca tequila and honey-dill syrup, garnished with a fennel frond. (Photo by Devin Raines)

WILMINGTON — A Raleigh restaurateur who has owned and operated 50 restaurants throughout his 40-year career launched his first eatery in Wilmington’s Lumina Station over the weekend. Saturday, Giorgios Bakatsias opened the fine dining spot Kipos Hellenic Cuisine in what was formerly 1900 Restaurant and Lounge.

Part of a dozen restaurants in the Giorgios Hospitality and Lifestyle Group portfolio, Kipos elevates Greek cuisine, with a focus on fresh local seafood. Bakatsias has been renovating the 140-seat restaurant since March.

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Various whites, blues and greens brighten the interior from its former dark palette. It organically tips its hat to the seaside town it now represents, without being too on the nose in nautical design.

Custom designed light fixtures bring texture to the Kipos dining room. (Photo by Devin Raines)

Fine art and ceramics, hand-painted accents and murals take up every inch of wall and shelving space. Textural aesthetics pop, from the Grecian god wallpaper in the restrooms to the strands of fiber on the custom-designed light fixtures and sconces naturally dimming the interior. 

“It’s like wild hair at the beach,” Bakatsias described of the fiber. “I wanted it to be sensual, not exposed — seductive but still mysterious.”

In the back of the eatery, another grouping of fixtures hang over the wooden tables, crafted from metal bowls. 

“It reminded me of the village in Greece,” said the restaurateur, who hails from Karista. “There was a metal guy that came with a donkey and always repaired the pans and cookware. It was the craftsmanship of something that never goes out of style.”

A vibrancy is apparent in every nook and cranny of Kipos. But it’s not only in aesthetic; Bakatsias leans on his 30-plus team to bring the same level of detail into every dish plated in the kitchen to beverages crafted behind the bar and delivered to each table. 

He hired George Delidimos to lead the helm in the back of the house. The chef hails from Thessaloniki, Greece, near Bakatsias’ home village.

Delidimos has worked with Bakatsias for years, first at the casual Kipos Greek Taverna in Chapel Hill before heading to Asheville. He held the executive chef position at Golden Fleece Slow Earth Kitchen, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant Giorgios Hospitality Group closed in 2020. 

A graduate of the Swiss Culinary Institute in Athens, Delidimos said his love for food started at home. Today, his cooking pays homage to the matriarch of his family. 

“My grandma used to tell me that when you braise meat, you don’t want to eat it the same day. It must be braised overnight and served the next day in order to be flavorful,” he said.

Chef Delidimos leads the Kipos kitchen, located at 1900 Lumina Ave. (Photo by Devin Raines)

The patience pays off in its slow build of flavors and remains Delidimos’ favorite technique for Kipos’ tender lamb and short rib dishes. The short rib is marinated in red wine, cloves, thyme and rosemary, and dry-cured in salt, cinnamon and allspice. 

“I am so in love with it because it brings back fond memories of cooking and eating  around the table with family,” Delidimos said. “The short ribs are served with rice and tomato sauce, topped with wonderful melted cheese.”

Greek cheeses are another staple Delidimos utilizes in the Kipos kitchen. He praises the versatility, to be served raw over salads or included in classics like Moussaka. The Kipos menu highlights hard sheep’s milk cheeses, such as graviera, kefalotyri, and vlahotiri, as well as soft manouri and oak barrel-aged feta. 

Yet, the Wrightsville Beach eatery leans heavily into the freshness of the ocean. Delidimos works with Motts Seafood to procure red snapper, scallops, shrimp, grouper, tuna, sea bass and flounder.

He also has connected with local farmers to utilize heirloom tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, leafy greens and other produce, much of which become lightly seasoned by the addition of high-grade olive oils, citrus and herbs, like dill and fennel fronds. 

Grilled tuna has a piquant flavor of saltiness from the Kalamata crema sauce and is enlivened by the flavors of the Hellenic Republic in a shaved fennel and celery salad.

The keftedes (Greek meatballs) come in a pool of homemade tzatziki, full of cucumber-y airiness and tangy Greek yogurt, balanced by hints of garlic.

Kipos works with Wilmington Bread Company to source its sourdough, a flavorful vessel for the many spreads that highlight the menu. In addition to tzatziki, Kipos offers spicy whipped feta, roasted eggplant and fava bean hummus — the latter served with caramelized onions for added richness.  

An unexpected taramosalata makes an appearance as well. Delidimos adds lemon juice and emulsifies carp fish roe with olive oil to create the Greek aioli. 

“The roe is used to make Tarama bread, which is traditionally eaten during religious fasting times when not eating meat,” he explained, “often served with bread and olives, and later consumed with ouzo.”

Aegean Breeze fizzes with delight, topped with Cava (Spanish bubbles), and blended with Hendricks gin, violette liqueur, yellow chartreuse, lemon, and cucumber. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Olives and ouzo, both imported from Greece, are among other offerings at the restaurant. A traditional drink to celebrate every occasion in Greek culture, ouzo’s bright licorice flavor from the anise is added to Blanca tequila and given a “gardeny” punch with homemade honey-dill syrup, garnished with a fennel frond. 

“Nothing’s overpowering; it’s a nice blend of flavors,” head bartender Jimmy Smith described. 

Smith and his team have been spearheading the bar program which debuts a handful of drinks, including the Ares Respite. It combines the smokiness of Mezcal tequila with bittersweet Campari, and grapefruit, lemon and rosemary.

Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias (left) speaks with a patron during Kipos soft opening. (Photo by Devin Raines)

The first sip of the Agean Breeze fizzes with delight, topped with Cava (Spanish bubbles), and blended with Hendricks gin, violette liqueur, yellow chartreuse, lemon, and cucumber. 

“It’s the perfect beach drink,” Smith said, adding the speciality cocktails will be updated and changed, each of the bar staff adding to the creations. “They’re a talented team.”

All the standards are offered at the high-end bar, along with handmade syrups and tinctures. Even the classics are spruced up, like an Old Fashioned, made with a mixture of Luxardo cherry juice and sugar that’s been immersed in orange peels for days.

Beyond the craft cocktails is a menu of Greek beer — such as Fix, “Greece’s standard lager,” Smith said. A wine steward circulates the floor to explain the one-of-a-kind Mediterranean varietals. 

“Assyrtiko grapes always deliver fresh, crisp flavors,” Jeff Martino described — the grapes grown on Santorini in volcanic-ash-rich soil.

The Avantis Estate White has a bright frontend, finishing dry and bittersweet, like that delivered in a sip of Campari. It’s a royal pairing with Kipos’ dark chocolate mousse, topped with sea salt.

“We want the restaurant to be comfortable but joyful,” Bakatsias said, as he floated across the dining room floor, greeting guests with a hug or a handshake. “It’s a vibration of being relaxed but also ready to party.”

The restaurant, located at 1900 Eastwood Rd., will operate for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Saturdays until 10 p.m. Smith said the bar will remain open on Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m. 

A covered outdoor patio area is open for al fresco dining, with a wind chime garden slated to be complete in coming months. Menu prices are $5 to $28, and reservations can be made here.

A smorgasbord of snacks and bites from Kipos. (Photo by Shannon Kelly)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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