What do you get if you combine a restaurant named Zeus, a co-owner called Costa and skewers of meat, or souvla, slow-roasted over hot flames? Answer: an innovative Greek street food venue that has customers queuing outside and the intoxicating aroma of char-grilled meat wafting along nearby suburban streets.
Zeus opened just four months ago and already has a cult-like following. The sleek interior, where just about every table is full and an infinite queue of customers order souvla to go, says this is not beginner’s luck.
Zeus is the very clever concept created by a collective of hospitality-savvy businessmen, including the crew that founded Crust Gourmet Pizza and the posse behind Pony Dining Group. The two teams have pooled their talents, including some serious marketing expertise, to develop a unique brand that taps into the growing appetite for so-called ‘street food’.
From the logo – a striking gold ‘Z’ designed to look like a bolt of lightning that presumably represents mythical Zeus, the God of Sky, Thunder and Lightning – to the signature black and white styling, including the traditional decorative black motif on white paper that swaddles soft-pita wrapped souvla, it’s a lovely ensemble of traditional, mythical and modern Greece.
They’re undaunted by the dubious territory they’ve inherited: a site located alongside a busy road in Drummoyne, Sydney that has been home to four restaurants in as many years. Co-owner Costa Anastasiadis says the Zeus troupe have done their homework and are confident of the location.
“We know the socio-economic demographics of the area … we see a massive opportunity in the suburbs and a massive opportunity for people like ourselves who are time-poor, who work and want a great quality product at a fair price point, whether they want to eat in, get it delivered, or pick it up.”
The menu is small and centred around konto souvla – a short skewer of roasted meat or seafood, of Greek Cypriot heritage. They come wrapped in house-made cushion-soft pita, with additions such as Aegian slaw, caramelised onion, preserved lemon mayo and tzatziki, or “nude” (pita-less) with a selection of salads and sides.
These signature souvla are roasted on a grill that is about a metre and a half long and sits front of house where wisps of smokey caramelised meat tantalise hungry customers. We watch flames leap up and snatch at fat-dripping hunks of meat on the rack above and when salt flakes are sprinkled on the scorched meat it crackles like popping candy.
Our slow-roasted lamb souvla is so tender it falls apart on touch, traces of fat have rendered into the flesh which is flame-licked and crisp on the outside but pleasantly pink within. A squeeze of lemon and a touch of house-made tzatziki are its perfect companions. A beetroot, feta, walnut, honey and mint salad is a quintet of balance. They’re both decent sized portions.
Other sides rate more averagely. Calamari is a little too pale and not quite crisp enough. The batter is still a little soggy within the tangle of tentacles. Its hot oil bath was at least 30 seconds too short. A small inedible piece of cartilage is left behind by careless cleaning. Feta and oregano chips are so-so.
Still, I’m inspired to return again and try more. Spanakopita – house-made flaky pastry spinach pie – comes highly recommended by a friend, while platefuls of chocolate loukoumades – chocolate drizzled doughnuts with crushed walnuts – delivered to neighbouring tables are a testament to their popularity.
Zeus has been carefully thought out. It’s a casual eatery where customers order and pay at the counter, can buy takeaway, and have Zeus drivers deliver it to their home. It’s licensed to serve alcohol and has council-approved seating on the footpath.
Anastasiadis says there is often a poor stigma attached to Greek food: people think of “stodgy heavy food sold in old taverns with fishnet-lined walls”.
“For us it’s about very fresh produce cooked in its simplest form and just allowing the food to really shine and not complicating the menu,” he adds. “For us we’ve grown up on either lamb on the spit or the more practical barbecue that a lot of families have is the konto souvla which is very good quality cuts of meat slow roasted on the skewer. What we wanted to exude with the brand was an extension of one’s home.”
He explains the origins of the restaurant’s name. It harks back to a Greek myth where Zeus came to earth in human form disguised as a poor traveller. The only people to offer him shelter, food and wine were an old couple. In return for their hospitality, Zeus protected them from the flood he sent to punish those who had turned him away.
“For for us being of Southern European decent, family is everything, having people over to eat is everything,” Anastasiadis says. “Zeus is a modern Greek street food eatery but it’s also a place where we want people to come in and feel very comfortable and spend time.”
The queue out the door says they’ve nailed it.