Floating from table to table, the staff weave in and out like a dance; balancing towering stacks of rich lamb chops, flaming plates of Saganaki and savoury grape leaf wrapped Dolmadakia as rhythmic Greek music strums in the background, keeping pace with the busy restaurant.
This is Koutouki – a truly authentic Greek culinary experience nestled among the take away chains and neon lights of Niagara Falls. This family owned and operated restaurant has brought their take on fine Greek cuisine and culture to both the locals and the revolving tourism crowd for many years; continually keeping true to their belief that quality, taste and consistency is what counts. And Koutouki’s continued success in the city’s restaurant-saturated core is a testament to just how right their culinary beliefs are.
The people behind the food are husband and wife duo Sheana and Sotiris Scordas. This couple of over 34 years is far from being new on the culinary scene; both have worked in restaurants for countless years and have owned over half a dozen throughout Ontario. But it wasn’t until 2009 that they decided to give Niagara a try, even though they knew it was a tough market, with over 400 restaurants in the small radius.
“There was a tough but good market in [Niagara Falls] because there was nothing already existing with the sort of caliber we knew we could put here,” said Sotiris. “We weren’t going to build a shish kabob house – even though the Greeks are known for souvlaki and food like that. So we thought, with the experience we have had over the years, we could upscale Greek food here…”
“… And show another part of Greece,” finished Sheana.
“We wanted to make a statement,” said Sotiris. “Otherwise you’re just another guy down the street from somebody else.”
And a statement they have made. They soon found their home in a rundown building on Ferry Street – a once neglected area of Niagara Falls; and though it was in need of some work, they soon took to the area.
“It was dilapidated, abandoned for at least five years, the street was a mess … it was the worst part of the town,” said Sotiris. “Every other Greek was giving us six months to survive in the business.”
Following seven months of renovations, the restaurant was up and ready – with the building’s bones still intact, but featuring a fresh contemporary style and old world feel. But once they opened, Sotiris said the city began working on the street, and soon construction surrounded their building.
“We said, ‘What are we going to do now – there is no access to the street’,” said Sotiris. “And yet, people crawled through the ditch to come into [the restaurant].”
Years later, people continue to rush through their doors no matter the obstacle; clambering to fill the intimate booths and enjoy traditional Greek cooking.
Inspired by tradition, the menu features a diverse album of family recipes that have been perfected over the years. Offering a one-of-a-kind appetizer menu which includes Greek favourites like phyllo wrap feta with Greek honey, tangy pureed dips and spinach and feta Spanakotyropita to entrees such as the classic meat and potato layered Moussaka, signature lamb dishes and the tender char broiled Octopus Sta Karvouna – which has drawn hungry travelers from across the globe to one of their tables.
Sotiris and Sheana proudly prep each morning and make every single menu item in house.
“Right down to cutting the meat,” said Sheana. “A lot of love and effort goes into the food. We wouldn’t serve anything we would not eat. And we love to eat. “
“We prepare everything with the same care,” said Sotiris. “The items on our menu are items that nobody else has.”
Sotiris said he learned to cook as a child by watching his family in the kitchen – whom owned a bakery at home in Larissa, Greece, an area known for their diverse agriculture. Sotiris said his mother spoiled him, always cooking him “a little bit of everything” at every meal, and teaching him about food and cooking from the heart.
“You have to have [cooking] inside you – you have to have an eye,” said Sotiris. “I never went to school to learn how to cook. You have to have an eye for plating – this can’t be taught.”
Growing up in an agriculture rich area of Greece also instilled Sotiris from a young age with a dedication to only using the best and freshest ingredients available and being consistent with these ingredients.
“I always use hot house tomatoes,” said Sotiris. “It does not matter the season or the cost, I use them and I won’t change to something else because it will change the taste.”
This as well goes for their feta – the best melt in your mouth feta you will ever taste.
“It is almost like butter,” said Sotiris. “You can taste the difference. The flavour is so different. And this is what makes the difference in the quality of food; those little things that are kind of hidden.”
To accompany the food is an impressive collection of wine comprised of private Greek imports and an evolving assembly of local Ontario wines – brought to the table in traditional copper plated Greek mugs to maintain their temperatures. All wines are selected by Sheana and Sotiris’ impossibly welcoming daughter and in house sommelier Georgina – who has worked alongside her parents even before she was tall enough to see over the counter.
“I used to wash dishes when I was three, standing on an overturned milk crate,” said Georgina. “This is where I have always felt where I belonged.”
A single visit to Koutouki will leave you loyal to the establishment – and left feeling like a member of the family.