Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favorite) restaurants.
This time, we’re taking a look at Andros Taverna, a fresh and wood-fired tribute to traditional Greek fare in the heart of Logan Square, led by husband-and-wife duo and industry veterans Doug Psaltis and Hsing Chen.
Here’s everything you need to know about this soulful Mediterranean newcomer (and its multiple fire-cooking apparatuses), which opened amid the pandemic in February, and recently debuted indoor dining.
1. What’s the story behind the name?
Andros Taverna is named for the southern Greek island of chef/co-owner Doug Psaltis’s lineage; “taverna” connotes the casual sorts of places you’d pop into weekly for sustenance if you lived in Athens. Specializing in lighter, modern Greek fare, this is a passion project years in the making from Psaltis and Chen. The couple teamed with Ryan and Anna O’Donnell of Ballyhoo Hospitality to create Andros Restaurant Group.
“I created a lot of restaurants over the years for Lettuce Entertain You,” says Psaltis, the “P” in RPM Restaurants, who opened such restaurants as RPM Italian and RPM Steak before leaving in 2019. “By the time I created Ramen San and Pizzeria Portofino, I kept thinking, ‘This should be a Greek restaurant, that should be a Greek concept.’ Finally I had the confidence to pull the trigger and open my own restaurant. This place is about healthy, clean living and clean eating. This is the food I grew up with, and it means a lot to me.”
2. What does clean, contemporary Greek food mean?
A native New Yorker, Psaltis grew up eating at his grandfather’s Greek diner. But Andros’s dinner and brunch menus take an approach more akin to the food he’s eaten over a lifetime of trips to Greece: fat hulks of barrel-aged feta, and vine-ripe tomatoes dressed with oil and vinegar; heaps of charred seafood glistening with olive oil; just-baked pita wrapped around succulent local pork gyros.
“It’s about rigorously finding the best sustainable ingredients, then letting them stand alone by cooking them simply,” he says. “Nothing is overwrought, it’s clean and simple and done right.”
… but with just a hint of cheffiness. That means crisp village salads and refreshed mezze like roasted calamari, crunchy-gooey kataifi cheese pie and sesame koulouri (bread rings) with silky taramasalata bejeweled with roe. The restaurant makes excellent use of its custom-built rotisserie hearth and wood-burning oven, specifically via buttery lavraki cooked over coals and slow-roasted lamb shank kleftiko. The pared-down cooking style is perhaps best typified through the Mediterranean octopus, which Psaltis broils simply in a little olive oil and vinegar until tender before finishing it on the charcoal grill to imbue smokiness, and serving it with a single lemon wedge.
PSA: Every order should come with a pair of the wood-fired pita balloons.
3. Now, about that pita.
Chen, a former pastry chef at the French Laundry and Jean-Georges restaurants, worked her way through 10 iterations before settling on Andros’s final, airy and supple pita — which is hand-stretched and wood-fired to order before getting finished with a slick of fine olive oil.
She carries the savory menu’s balanced, minimalist approach to pastries and desserts, where she marries peak Greek ingredients with expertly honed French techniques, via creations like burnished olive and pistachio twist danish; flaky, sugar-dusted cinnamon swirl brioche; and vanilla soufra, a ruffled custard pie with layers of crispy filo topped with cinnamon, honey and pistachio.
On the drinking end, Psaltis and Chen tapped sommelier Kristin Francesco as wine director, who’s created a bottle list that’s 85 percent Greek, plus select bottles from around the Mediterranean — a veritable celebration of the region. Psaltis is partial to xinomavro, a red grape native to Macedonia that produces wines evocative of great Italian Barolo.
4. The space calls to mind Athens’s beloved tavernas — with a hint of Queens.
Located on the northernmost end of Logan Apartments, a sprawling new development on bustling Milwaukee Ave, the 110-seat restaurant is high-ceilinged and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows that can open completely on warm days. Coarse cement, copper fixtures, terra cotta accents and plenty of plant life call to mind the humble, stone-walled taverns of metro Athens, with more than a dose of Psaltis’s childhood neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.
“Logan Square embodies a lot of what I was looking for as the great heart and soul of the best restaurants and artists, and being in a working-class environment,” Psaltis says.
Out front, a handful of sidewalks seats overlook Milwaukee Ave. The back patio seats 75, with a greenhouse-style glass enclosure for year-round dining.
5. Opening in a pandemic helped them design a highly adaptable space.
They built a walk-up/to-go window for diners who prefer pickup, and created an indoor floor plan that enabled them to accommodate changes in city requirements. They outfitted the restaurant with an Atmosair HVAC system “equivalent to emergency rooms, which returns clean air to the space, and which most restaurants will be obliged to have in the future,” Psaltis says.
“Opening in pandemic for me was an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons,” he adds. “It wasn’t the best time, but we learned a lot.”
6. By the way, don’t count out a Greektown location for this group.
Psaltis realizes the significance of their not opening Andros in Greektown, the historic heartbeat of Chicago’s Greek community in the West Loop. Stalwarts like Santorini and the Parthenon have lately closed amid rising rents and the prolonged strain of the pandemic.
“It’s really sad to see these places close, but the people who have invested their time and lives there have done an amazing job of creating value for their families — and their kids have gone on to do great things,” Psaltis says. “The heritage of Greektown will hopefully always be around. I hope to be able to contribute to that as well.”
7. Nudge, nudge. Does that mean you’ll eventually open a restaurant there, chef?
“We hope to, yes.”
Andros Taverna is open Wednesdays through Sundays for indoor dining, plus takeout.
Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago-based restaurant critic and food writer, whose work has appeared in such publications as Eater, Plate, Food52, Wine Enthusiast and others. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.