I really enjoyed reading this review.Now, if only Axios were closer to my house. The 1.5 block walk is a killer.
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But while Axios feels Greek, Topakas didn't want to serve just the traditional staples. He hired Royce Oliveira to command the kitchen — a chef who'd trained under Frank Bonnano but had never done Greek cuisine. But that may have been for the best: Free from any restraints, Oliveira constructed a menu that pays reverent homage to the flavors and ingredients of Greece while also encompassing clever upgrades and subtle twists. No one could accuse Oliveira of bastardizing the classics here — but this isn't a gyro joint, either.
I developed a real appreciation for Oliveira's approach during my second meal at Axios, on a weekend night when the couple to my left was celebrating a belated Valentine's Day and the couple to my right got their food without even ordering, after calling their server by his first name and inquiring about his family. I was there with a visiting friend, and we started with glasses of juicy, teeth-staining Xinomavro — Axios has an excellent list of Greek wines to explore, like tropical white Moscofilero and a light-bodied cabernet — plus more of that feta, this time served drizzled with olive oil and supplemented with kalamata, Halkidiki and wrinkled black olives. I couldn't resist the saganaki — I'm a sucker for hot, melted cheese — and ours was ceremoniously delivered while still in flames, two servers crying "Opa!" as they set it on the table. This is a by-the-book Greek dish, and it was also the weakest one I tried at Axios. The strong sheep's-milk cheese was so soaked in brandy that the tear-inducing sting of alcohol remained long after the fire had crisped the edges of the cheese. Even with a healthy shot of lemon, I found it hard to swallow.
But our entrees quickly doused that memory. I'd ordered Makaronia Me Keftedes, Greek spaghetti and meatballs. A bed of perfectly al dente linguine had been covered with a ground-lamb-specked tomato sauce with just a bit of heat; the garlicky lamb-and-beef meatballs on top had the flavor of gyro meat. The dish was supposed to be finished with sheep's-milk cheese, but its flavor was lost — perhaps because the dairy wasn't freshly grated.
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Region: South Denver
My friend was enjoying the brizole so much that he wouldn't take a break to talk, and after I stole a bite, I could see why. The bone-in pork chop, encrusted with salt and pepper, had been grilled a perfect medium. As he sawed off slices with a knife, juice bled out into a plate pooled with pan drippings, chickpeas and blanched Swiss chard, heightening the careful balance of bitter and savory flavors. As much as I'd liked Axios's hummus, though, the smear on top of the meat was not just superfluous, but unharmonious.
We ended our dinner with a light version of baklava — the flaky pastry and almond paste were drizzled with honey rather than drowned in it — as well as a raisiny dessert wine from Etko that wasn't unlike a tawny port. As I sipped, I watched the grinning waiters dart around the rapidly filling restaurant, sometimes carrying orders of saganaki out of the kitchen, blue flames dancing over the white bricks as they delivered them to the tables, then cried "Opa!"
Axios deserves its own "Opa!" Even if Topakas never brings us the Mediterranean, Axios will always be Greek to me.
Slide show: In the kitchen at Axios Estiatorio