According to their website, “kipos” means “garden” in Greek. While I initially thought the name was a little odd, if not inaccurate, when I first walked into Kipos Greek Taverna, located in the Courtyard complex on West Franklin St., I now can’t think of a more apt name for the lovely restaurant.
I couldn’t help but feel relaxed as I entered. In addition to ample outdoor eating space (which I’m sure will be much more popular when the weather isn’t wavering between monsoon and surface of the sun), the dining area makes the most of the large windows and skylights in the space with lots of white and mirrors. Even the light fixtures on the ceiling are clear glass. Paired with the large rustic wooden tables and chairs, bouquets of flowers, and bowls of lemons and tomatoes on the counter separating the open kitchen from the dining area, you can’t help but feel like you’re actually attending a dinner in a friend’s backyard garden instead of a business.
The restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and brunch on Sundays. I went for dinner. Actually, I went twice, because I wanted the chance to try a variety of dishes, and I’m a fairly small girl with a limited appetite. The first night I went, with a group of girls for our book club, I ordered the pork naked souvlakia, served with roasted oregano potatoes, tzatziki, and Kipossalad. The roasted potatoes were quite good for being a simple dish; the flavors of lemon and oregano brought a freshness to the earthy flavor of the potatoes. The pork souvlakia were top notch. Well-seasoned and melt-in-your-mouth tender, I was very excited to have leftovers to take home for lunch the next day. The rock star on the plate, however,was the tzatziki. Made fresh to order, it is satisfyingly thick and tangy, as good Greek yogurt should be, while still highlighting the flavors of cucumber, lemon, and garlic.
The second time I went, I brought a friend so that we could dive into the mezedes, or small plates, menu. Feeling ambitious, we ordered the tzatziki with pita, santorini (fried dill and zucchini fritters served over tzatziki), baked epirus feta (using Chapel Hill Creamery pheta), arnisisaplevrakia (lamb riblets), the grilled octopus, and finished off with the galaktoburiko for dessert (house-made phyllo dough filled with lemon custard and drizzled with orange rosewater). The standout was the grilled octopus which was tender and not at all chewy, with a really great charred flavor from being grilled over wood. Even the dishes that were not necessarily my favorites, like the baked epirius feta (I felt that the flavor of the peppers and capers overwhelmed the flavor of the feta), were very good, and obviously planned and prepared with high standards in mind.
My only hang-up about my experiences at Kipos was the service. On one hand, the servers are incredibly knowledgeable about the menu and willing to answer any questions you may have. You may not find yourself surrounded by Ionic columns and blue and white Greek keys, but the menu at Kipos is unapologetically Greek, which means that you may not know what galaktoburiko is (I certainly didn’t), or what the Greek wines on their wine menu are like compared to more common varietals. I found the servers always pleased to answer my questions, and sometimes answer ones that I didn’t know I had (did you know that traditionally, house wines in Greece aren’t served in stemmed wine glasses, but in small tumblers?). However, getting them to the table can sometimes be a struggle, even when the restaurant isn’t busy, so you may be waiting a while to have your question answered.
Overall, however, I have thoroughly enjoyed both of my experiences at Kipos. The atmosphere is inviting and warm, great for going out to dinner with friends or family, and the food has that wonderful element of comfort about it, even if you aren’t Greek. If you are a diner who expects technical acrobatics, daring flavor profiles, and mind-boggling presentation, Kipos may not be the restaurant for you. I hesitate to call the food simple, because it certainly isn’t, but it is food that respects its ingredients, balancing the traditional flavors of Greece in order to allow them shine. Similarly, the presentation is lovely, but it is simple and allows you to appreciate the flavors of the food in front of you and the friends that you share it with.