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The Naughty Greek 2 brings culture to the Twin Cities

An Orono High School family shares family recipes from Greece, with a new Twin Cities foodie gem

Carianna Spencer

Carianna Spencer

"Fishing basket" light fixtures cast an amber glow on the dining area, as opening night at The Naughty Greek begins to wind down

Carianna Spencer, Orono High School

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Walking into the Naughty Greek’s second location on opening day was like stepping into a different world–a parallel universe, better and brighter than the St. Paul streets. Those who were stepping in from the biting cold were greeted by the scent of rotisserie meats and the satisfied buzz of customers, stuffed with an assortment of appetizers.

Not even a day old and The Naughty Greek’s University Avenue location was already thriving. Teasers of the menu, from warm mini gyros to orange soaked filo cake, circulated around the room, delivered by a staff that included owner Angelo Giovanis’ daughters; Sophia, a former Orono High School student, and Melina, a current Orono High School sophomore.

The crowd, a mixture of trendy couples clutching amber beer bottles, native Greek speakers, and even a mother and toddler dancing along to each “Oompa!” the live band shouted out, read like a family. It was a fitting vibe, considering the community connection, “Greek dining style” and family history the restaurant revolves around.

Location no. 2 opened on Dec. 5. 2017, about a year after the original; in November of 2016, Angelo Giovanis brought a sliver of his home back to the Twin Cities, with the opening of his first The Naughty Greek–a restaurant dedicated to serving authentic Athenian street food with a side of a culture lesson.

Compared to the first location on Snelling Avenue, The Naughty Greek 2 is larger. It has the vibe of a sit-down restaurant rather than a quick stop place, with long tables and a high warehouse ceiling. The expansion coincides with Giovanis’ goal of expanding Greek culture which celebrates dining and conversation; it allows him to pull up a chair next to customers and let his passion season their food with a little extra something.

“People just love listening to him talk because he’s so passionate about it,” Sophia Giovanis said, “this means so much to my dad, and people see that and people respect that.”

A large part of what he shares with his customers is what makes real Greek cuisine authentic. This ideal is part of the foundation that The Naughty Greek was built upon, reflected even in the name of the restaurant itself.

While the bathrooms have wall sized pictures of donkeys (“asses”) and the menu has little innuendos hidden in the graphics, Giovanis said that what really makes the place naughty is the way it breaks the rules of typical American Greek restaurants. As Giovanis was creating the restaurant, he found himself telling vendors “no” time after time. Instead of buying cheap pre-made ingredients, Giovanis decided to go the harder route: homemade, with many ingredients imported straight from Greece. He also opted to eliminate lamb gyros from the menu, as lamb is not in traditional Greek gyros.

“The rest of the Greek restaurants will not like me, but I’m actually doing it the right way,” Giovanis said, “I’m okay with the idea that…okay, I’m the ‘naughty one’ because…I’m breaking the rules, doing it my way.”

Ingredients aside, the true authenticity of The Naughty Greek comes from the recipes themselves; most of them were born in Greece, with roots from the Giovanis family. The honey syrup soaked orange filo cake, one of the most popular foods on opening night, is on the menu as “Yia-Yia’s Orange Filo Cake.” In Greek, yia-yia means grandmother.

“I’ll tell you about the filo cake, not only is that really good, that’s what grandma used to make us, the loukoumades, my grandma used to wake us up…on the weekends, that was our breakfast,” Giovanis said.

The Naughty Greek’s sense of family injects a truthfulness to the atmosphere that not all restaurants are lucky to possess. Sometimes, whether working or hanging out with friends for a few hours, Giovanis’ daughters can be found at the restaurant. Spotted occasionally too, is his own mother or a table with friends from the Greek community. It’s not uncommon for the sound of Greek words to be heard, overlapping with the background music.

“I think I have gotten a lot more close with my, with the culture…I am more of a Greek girl,” Sophia Giovanis said, growing more animated as she spoke,“It’s a constant reminder… you have Greek people coming in, and you’re speaking Greek all of a sudden, like I would never do this unless I was with my grandparents or I was in Greece.”

Junior Isabella Koch, a friend of Sophia Giovanis’, jumped in. “I can definitely see that it’s a bigger part of your family and you. I think it’s brought you guys so much closer together…it’s such a support system,” Koch said, “I just think you brought out like your inner Greek Goddess and now I see her, always flying.”

Despite living in the Orono school district, both Melina Giovanis and Sophia Giovanis have spent ample time in Greece; as a family they often return to Monemvasia, a town on an island east of the Peloponnese, and connect back with the culture that Angelo Giovanis strives to promote. Now, the shared experience with their father has developed even more, as they live out a history similar to his. The Giovanis girls are not the only ones in the family with a father who opened an eatery.

After growing up in his father’s restaurant, a “magical” place located in a Greek village, it’s no leap that Angelo Giovanis continued on with the restaurant legacy. Although he once told himself he would never go back to the restaurant business, there was always a shred of the experience that stuck with him: the love for people. This, he said, was what ultimately drove him back to serving food in his own Santorini colored restaurant; and to anyone who dines at The Naughty Greek, it’s certainly apparent.

Between talking to his employees and dashing into the kitchen, Giovanis said he tries to meet every customer. A few days after opening, at just 3 p.m. on a Sunday, Giovanis could already point out two tables with regulars. His love for his creation has helped it blossom into a Twin Cities gem, and in turn people are noticing and coming back for more. It’s nearly impossible to talk to Giovanis without getting infected with his excitement, without being inspired.

“I want my kids to know that if you have a dream, and you want to do it, get out there and do it,” Giovanis said, “I actually have to be the example of that, I can’t just tell my kids to do that–if I don’t live it, it’s just words. So for me a very big part of all of this is to demonstrate to them that…you’ve got to work hard, follow your passions, follow your dreams. If I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

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