A Big Fat Greek Brunch at Axios Estiatorio
Gyros, in brunch form.
Axios Estiatorio, opened back in 2011, has become a Berkeley neighborhood mainstay among newer, trendier bars and restaurants that have folks flocking to the hopping stretch of Tennyson Street between 38th and 44th Avenues. Dinner is already a known and loved quantity — Axios won our Best Greek Restaurant award two years in a row and Best By-the-Glass Wine List this year — but Greek brunch is still a bit of a secret.
Described as a contemporary Greek restaurant you’d find in current day Athens as opposed to a traditional taverna on the Islands, Axios is a family-run joint that boasts an interesting mix of old and new, with traditional patterns on the tiled floors and modern exposed beams and fixtures. The dark space is lit up with rows of high windows and mirrors casting odd reflections if you’re seated in the wrong place that left most of us squinting into the sun despite not having any benefit of the outside world close to eye level.
One you get over the odd layout, the service is warm, friendly and welcoming, especially with the frequent Opa! cries as plates of flaming saganaki are delivered to impatiently waiting tables. You can stop in anytime Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to indulge in a number of Greek twists on classic brunch favorites with little to no wait.
The Greeks love their sweets.
We upgraded our drinks from standard mimosas and Bloody Marys to raspberry mimosas and jalepeño-infused Bloodies because they sounded too good not to; the berry cocktail was full of whole fruit pieces to show it was made in-house. Also available in peach, both can be ordered bottomless for $15. While we went for the spicier of the Bloody Mary options, infusions are also available in lemon-pepper-thyme or cucumber for $8.50 each. A-Game service is the standard, as demonstrated by regular coffee refills, even while our cups were still half-full. That kind of attentiveness is appreciated even when it throws off our well-executed java-to-milk ratio with each top off.
We're on the see food diet here.
Our server made the joke that everyone here is on the Mediterranean diet (you know — when you sea food, you eat it), especially when we opted for three-course breakfasts. We started with a traditional mezze to mark the occasion: The flaming cheese plate made its way to our table and we were told to wait 45 seconds before putting out the fire with a lemon. Once doused, the cheese was gone in another 45 seconds, scooped up with accompanying slices of pita.
The tyropita was touted as the most popular entrée, which it was by our vote as well. A three-cheese pie filled with ricotta, feta and kefalotiri wrapped in filo dough and topped with a warm poached egg, it was essentially a Greek quiche made for dairy fans — one that could find a place in my heart as a regular side dish, main course or even dessert, with all that cheese. A close second was the Greek Benedict, which came topped with wilted spinach, feta and sautéed onions on mini pitas, dressed with a champagne Hollandaise. Although the dish was meatless, the spinach gave it a heartier feel, which sufficiently filled us up considering how much other food we ordered. Another standout was the scramble, which had gyros mixed in with plenty of fire roasted veggies and dill for flair.
Why get one dessert when you can get them all?
All the desserts looked insanely good and were completely unnecessary by the end of the meal, but this was a family affair, and skimping was not an option. Skipping the predictable baklava to try some lesser-known Greek favorites, we chose a torta kataifi stuffed with ricotta and pistachio nuts and topped with shredded filo dough that had been doused in a citrus syrup, all together tasting a bit like an orange glazed pumpkin pie. The almond olive-oil cake had the moist consistency of a dense muffin and was topped with toasted almonds and orange zest, along with a side of citrus compote overwhelmed with basil.
Axios is a great place to familiarize yourself with new dishes in a big, accommodating space made for festive gatherings, whether brunch with your buddies or keeping it all in the family.
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