Epsilon Restaurant Brings Greek Flair to Fine Dining
Epsilon Fine Greek Restaurant is a favorite on our Old Monterey Tour. Read on to find out why.
A blue and white awning labeled “Epsilon” draws my attention, and as I enter the restaurant, I’m immediately transported into Greece. The high-beamed ceilings — which I learn have recently been part of a remodel —, Greek art, and color scheme feels like the building has been cut out of Athens and placed ever so gently in downtown Monterey.
On the other side of the door I find the owner, Christos Hix, busy preparing for the restaurant’s opening in just under an hour. Fortunately, I was able to grab a few minutes of his time to get the scoop on the creation of Epsilon Fine Greek Restaurant — a spot you can always enjoy on our Old Monterey Tour.
It’s All in the Family
As we sit at a table drinking coffee with a cinnamon-infused simple syrup, Chris tells me all about the history of the Hix family and their love of food. He learned a lot from his mom, but also credits much of his knowledge to his Uncle Paul, Uncle Peter, and his “ya-ya” (Greek word for “grandma”) teaching him all he needed to know about Greek food.
Before Epsilon, the Hix family had tried their hand at a couple of different restaurants throughout the years, with the most recent being a place called The Picnic Box out in Carmel. Chris’s mom, Uncle Peter, and ya-ya came up with the recipes there, and while it had some Greek flair to it, it was mostly sandwiches and burgers.
Although Uncle Peter’s burgers did well with the customers, a desire to keep to their roots had the family relocating to a little shop on Tyler Street.
Originally called the Tyler Street Cafe, once they had the Greek-infused menu ready, they renamed it to “Epsilon.”
Getting the Greek Flair
So, what is “Epsilon?” Family name? City where the family’s from?
Actually, it’s the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet — Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Epsilon.
What, then, does the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet have to do with Chris and his family?
Well, when his Uncle Peter first moved out to Oklahoma to stay with Chris’s parents, they opened up their first Greek restaurant. They cycled through a couple of different restaurants before The Picnic Box — which they believed to be their fourth restaurant, which, if so, would make Epsilon their fifth.
Passing on the Torch
Chris managed the restaurant for fifteen years, but in 2016, he and his wife, Dallie, took over.
It wasn’t as easy as just signing a paper here or there, though.
After his mother had a stroke, Chris left Monterey for about six years to take care of her. She needed 24 hour care, but he eventually brought her back to the Monterey area so he could get back to work. Once back home, Chris returned to manage Epsilon, and after about four years discussed taking over from Uncle Peter. He rallied friends and family together to save up money and bought the restaurant to make sure it stayed in the family.
It probably won’t end with Chris, either.
His nine-year-old daughter has taken interest in her parents’ business, and she already has her future takeover in mind. She puts up her hair, takes out her pen and papers, retrieves orders from the guests, visits with them, takes care of their payments, and does everything else in between. She already has a year of serving experience under her belt, and she even helps out in the kitchen sometimes, too.
The best part?
Her tips go to her college fund, so everything is an investment in her future.
“She wants to take over,” says Chris. “She came up to me and hugged me and looked up and said, ‘Dad, I want to run the restaurant so you can take a vacation.’ I cried.”
What’s the Fuss About Greek Food?
Of course, not everybody likes Greek food, but for those who are just unfamiliar, Epsilon is a great place to see what type of cuisine the Greeks have to offer. Here, everything is homemade. Nothing is out of a can.
The recipes belong to Uncle Peter, Chris’s mom, Chris’s ya-ya, and even a couple are Chris’s own recipes he’s brought to the table: The Kolokitho-Keftedes — zucchini and feta fried croquettes with tzatziki sauce — and his own twist on a classic baklava — dusted with cinnamon, warmed up for 20 seconds, accompanied with a cinnamon-flavored simple syrup and a brown sugar ice cream from Revival Ice Cream.
Can confirm that this is an incredible pairing.
Besides that, there’s one secret about the food: It speaks for itself. It isn’t drowned out in a plethora of sauces or flavors, but the careful preparation makes the flavors stand out on their own.
Lamb Shanks for the Win
Part of that careful preparation goes into the lamb shanks, which take two days to cook!
First, they’re braised for about six hours — or, essentially, all throughout lunch. Then, they sit in the sauce while the meat is swollen for a few hours. After that, they’re put into the refrigerator, where all of the meat absorbs the flavors of the sauce, which leaves all of the flavor in the lamb itself. Finally, they’re cooked for about another hour the following day before they’re finally ready to be served.
One thing to note about the other lamb dishes, however: The loin chops are different from the lamb rack. Sometimes there can be confusion between the two, but the loin chops are taken off the shoulder, as opposed to the rib-type pieces people tend to expect.
Revamping the Menu
There’s plenty of experimentation going on behind the scenes, but not everything makes it onto the menu. Although Chris would love to change everything around, when it comes down to it, he realizes that everything sells almost equally, and it’s hard to cut out one thing to replace it with something else. Nothing goes unordered, so it’s difficult to replace what already works, and if it isn’t broken, there’s no reason to fix it.
Fortunately, he has full trust in Candido, his head chef, who has been there for nearly 20 years. Employee loyalty is just as important to Chris as anything else, and he’s grateful he’s able to trust the people who run his kitchen. That way, he’s able to be out in the front handling the guests, and he doesn’t have to worry about what’s going on in the kitchen. His cooks know the menu by heart, and even though he goes in to taste things every so often, kitchen production is the least of Chris’s stresses.
The Greek Way of Doing Things
Another popular menu item — and something we offer on the Old Monterey tour — is the dolmades. However, sometimes people mix up the Greek version with the Mediterranean “dolmas.” Although they share the same base of ground sirloin, rice, and herbs all wrapped in grape leaves, the Greeks like to add an avgolemono sauce, similar to a hollondaise, to it.
“It’s similar to the sauce you’d use on an eggs bennedict,” says Chris. “It’s just a little more lemony because Greeks love lemon,” he adds with a chuckle.
They also have a particular affinity to cinnamon, as seen in the cinnamon-infused simple syrup, but use of that spice comes with a piece of life advice, too.
“If you have an ant problem, a line of cinnamon will keep them away,” Chris advises. “I don’t know why, something about the spice, but there it is.”