Wine Expert Evan Turner has signed the paperwork and got the keys to his forthcoming dream restaurant Helen Greek Food and Wine. As noted by the Chronicle the restaurant will occupy the former Khan’s Deli (2429 Rice Boulevard) on a well-traveled street in Rice Village. After a his mid-March Kickstarter came up short, his former Branch Water Tavern colleague Sharif Al-Amin swooped in at the eleventh hour and offered to be Turner's business partner. The plan is to open by mid-July.
Now the pair can shift to thinking about the fun stuff, like the menus. And if you’re guessing Helen will have Greek salad and gyros, think again. Turner says the kitchen will mesh the best of Houston, the Gulf Coast and regional Greek cuisine. Think terrific seafood and dishes that capitalize on our long growing season. "Why people put lettuce in a Greek salad, I will never understand," he says. "And the quality of the salad always goes in the tank around December because the things that you need for it are no longer in season.
We’re looking at things like, can we use Texas olive oil and not lose the flavors we want? Will Texas feta be the right texture for what we’re doing? Our fish will come from the Gulf, even though the recipes will be Greek. "
Options will include three different size plates: tastes (for one or two people), shares (for two to four diners) and family style (for four to six). Turner says family style plates will offer more than enough food to share, and even some extra to bring leftovers home.
Meanwhile, Turner is putting together an all-Greek wine list. And he knows he’s going to have some educating to do on that front: training not only the staff, but likely also diners who probably aren't up on toungue-twisting Greecian grapes like Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, and Malagouzi.
I’m out to convince every last person that Greek wine is just as good as any other wine – or I might just kill myself
"I’m out to convince every last person that Greek wine is just as good as any other wine – or I might just kill myself," Turner says. He's promising a hefty by-the-glass selection, as well as a bottle price that shouldn’t top more than $100, leaving diners plenty of space for experimentation and discovery.
Turner lived in Greece as a child, so its food and culture are close to his heart. "When I was 11, my stepfather got a job teaching in Thessoloniki, Greece," he said in his Kickstarter video. After an 18-hour-flight, he recalls his young self dragged to dinner with a bunch of adults he wasn’t really interested in knowing. "And the first dish that’s put in front of me is this pink, creamy stuff. 'Htipiti,' said the waiter. 'It’s spicy, delicious. You’ll love it.' And I take a bite. And it’s the most delicious thing I’ve had in my life." Turner wants to create a similar experience for diners at Helen.
"We’ve got the right location, we’re going to have the right people, and I think our diners are going to love what we’re doing." They may even — Turner concedes dryly — get to break plates. "That’s my one nod to the stereotypical Greek experience."