Paul Shoul photo
Filos greek Taverna-(left to right)-Jose Moreno,Mary Gonzalez,Christina Zoe McDougal,Mario Moreno, Sunita&Konstantinos, (front)Iakoros,Dimitiris Kasimis,Oscar D Valdes, Need name for woman on right
So I’m standing outside Filos Greek Taverna on a Saturday at 3:50 p.m., leaning against the waist-high decorative column that perches alongside the leftmost edge of this new restaurant’s facade. Feeling deliciously socratic and writerly in my column-leaning, I take a moment to muster my newfound analytical propensities and peer through the front window, prepared to eat and to chat with chef and owner Konstantine Sierros.
I’ve cupped my hands around my eyes and forced my brow against the glass a la kindergarten ’96, minus the face-shmooshing. Filos is crowded with the pre-dinner rush, but not yet full-bore bustling. Imagining a mid-recession Peloponnesian beach scene would give you a sense of the approximate customer density, which is to say: pretty busy.
As I walk through the front door, I’m immediately pulled out of my socratic, writerly daze by the cozy taverna’s unmistakable design scheme: Grecian blues and whites have overtaken the floor and ceiling, framing the elaborate interior in a familiar pattern and hue. Plaster-moulded four-top booths slope gently into plaster-moulded 3D murals that depict vineyards and satyric mythologies across long walls. There’s nothing subtle about the decor, nor its essential Greekness. Even the table salt shakers are Greek imports, Kalas brand.
“I’ve entered the Old World,” I’m thinking to myself. Well, okay, I’ve entered a space that’s loudly evoking the Old World. Either way, I like it. Extensively thematic restaurants charm me for reasons I can’t quite explain, but that I suspect relate to a series of formative experiences that took place in a suburban Chuck E. Cheese circa the ’96 face-shmooshing incident.
I’ve now approached the counter, where customers stand menu-gazing in a growing queue, mouthing unfamiliar words to themselves in rehearsal. Just imagine the shapes of spa-na-ko-ti-ro-pi-ta. Filos does not offer table service; it’s an order-at-the-counter sort of place. Its purposeful setup ensures that your day will be brightened and your needs met, for behind the register stands Sierros, the captain of this culinary vessel. I wave and he promptly reciprocates, his strong-featured face alight with recognition, familiarity. He’s a hulking presence, and appears to me as Greek as his restaurant’s interior: just the right amount of chest hair, weighty gold jewelry, olive-toned skin, a million-drachma smile.
“Can we do this interview across the counter?” he asks me apologetically. “I’ve got to work. It’s the nature of the business, you know.”
I oblige with pleasure, just as excited to observe as I am to eat and to chat. What’s already obvious to me is that it’s not the nature of the restaurant business to meet under these conditions, but rather the nature of Filos—well, more precisely, the nature of Sierros himself. As I munch on a complimentary slice of their quite good pizza, I commence my observation.
To call Sierros an artist would be melodramatic, but there’s something undeniably artistic about his managerial style. As customers bombard him with mispronunciations, the phone rings and rings, and trays of food and their accompanying smells orbit the restaurant furiously. Ring, ring and the delivery guy is about to walk out with the wrong order. Ring, ring and someone’s salad’s dressing is not on the side. Ring, ring and Konstantine is singlehandedly holding it all together like an expert parent of misbehaving toddlers. A mysterious order of loukoumades, tasty fried dough balls, appears on the counter, and no one can track down its rightful owner. Without hesitating, Konstantine divides the treats up onto multiple small plates and delivers them to every single dine-in customer in sight.
“I’ve done this all my adult life,” he tells me, making change for a non-customer’s $20. “It’s second nature, you know.”
He’s perfectly polite and composed all the while, always remembering his customers’ names and almost always remembering their orders. Though he’s not alone in his tireless work ethic—I count a total five other chefs and/or food handlers behind the counter and two buspersons out on the floor—he’s obviously the quarterback, calling huddles and audibles and initiating play. This is not his first rodeo.
A veteran restaurateur, Sierros is the man behind Florence Pizza & Family Restaurant in Florence and Paisano’s Pizza Restaurant & Pub in Southampton. And though Filos extends Sierro’s personable professionalism to the Pioneer Valley’s metropolitan epicenter (lucky Northampton, if you ask me), the restaurant’s opening on December 12, 2013 represented more than just a new business venture. Having signed a 20-year lease with the building’s owner, Edwards Church, Sierros is fully committed to the community.
“Truth be told,” he tells me, finding a spare moment between phone calls, “this is the first time that I’ve ever done something that represents my heritage. This is the first time I’ve put myself out there.”
Sierros lived in Greece until he was 17 years old, when he moved to Northampton with his family to avoid being drafted into the Greek military. He spent a semester at Northampton High, completed his credits, then attended St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H. After he graduated his mother became ill, and his father needed help with the family restaurant, so he decided to return to the area.
“There’s an old joke,” Sierros chuckles wryly. “It goes: How do you make God laugh?”
Shortly after returning, he met his wife and business partner-to-be, Sunita, a Smith College alumna, and settled down, his foot newly planted in the door of the culinary world. Fast-forward some years and here he is now, father of five: two children and three businesses.
“You tell Him your plans.” We laugh together.
I’ll admit that I’ve rambled on about Filos’ aesthetic and owner because I think the food stands on its own. Please do not mistake my reticence for ambivalence. A restaurant that serves mediocre food undercuts its essential purpose: to feed. I have never had better or more authentic Greek food in my life outside of Greece. There’s no need for hyperbole or flowery language here. Everything I sampled at Filos was nothing short of delicious: the gyro and souvlaki wraps, the fassolakia, the spanakorizo. I’m no chef, but for under $10 you will not be disappointed. And with free delivery all day, you can enjoy fresh Greek delicacies in the comfort of your own miserable home, you lazy bum. I jest: It’s wintertime… I get it.
Better yet, Filos is one of a very few BYOB spots in the Northampton area, and its staff would never dream of charging you a corking fee. Better better yet, not only can you borrow wine glasses, you can also borrow curvaceous beer mugs: hefeweizens welcome. Better better better yet, they’ll offer you a 10 percent off coupon at State Street Wines & Spirits just around the corner.
“You don’t have to pay six bucks a glass,” Sierros boasts, “you can pay six bucks a bottle. And, another huge thing, you’re going and patronizing another business right down the road, which, in the end, is what Northampton is all about—how to bring more people in, you know.”
The interview has ended now and I’m sitting alone at a table inside the window I earlier peered through. Between bites of loukoumades, I once again cup my hands around my eyes and force my brow against the glass. Main Street is brimming with strollers and knitted scarves and shopping bags, shivering dogs of all breeds and smalltime rebels eating GoBerry.
At times I’m wary of Northampton’s rampant consumerism: folks come to dress, to dine, to drink, to spend. Amid my judgments, however, I glance over my shoulder at Konstantine, who’s still working the counter. He’s laughing mightily and gesturing wildly, and I can hear him shouting giddily at giddy customers, “Are you Greek? Are you Greek? Have you heard the one about the Greek-Australian?” I feel a literal warmth emanating from within my well-fed stomach, I feel a perceived warmth emanating from the surrounding scene, and somehow I feel right at home.•