When George Maximos came to the United States, he set his heart on a life’s goal: He wanted to open a restaurant. It took him 18 years, but Maximos is now the owner of a new Southwood venue, Yasou Cafe, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine.
“I was dreaming about opening a restaurant for a long time,” said Maximos, who had a software company in his homeland of Cairo, Egypt before moving to America.
When he arrived in Destin, he got a job in a restaurant for a few years, then he moved to Tallahassee. He worked for the state for about a dozen years before deciding to take the plunge and go into business. But then there were other challenges.
“I had already signed the contract before the virus hit,” he said. “They allowed me to delay three months.”
George was originally going to launch during the summer but waited until Nov. 3 for his grand opening in the former Starbucks site.
“I have a connection to this location,” said George. “My wife and I would come and eat at Starbucks.”
The name of the cafe, “Yasou” also has meaning to the restaurateur.
“It’s like a greeting in Greece that means Hello or Welcome,” said George.
Having a friendly atmosphere is critical to George. While many customers are now doing takeout, the interior of the casual restaurant is bright and cheery, with a few outdoor tables, waiting for the day when there can be a more communal atmosphere. On our phone calls for togo orders, servers were courteous and helpful.
The menu features dishes inspired by the Mediterranean region. Intrinsic to these flavors are garlic, lemons, olive oil and aromatic herbs and spices. Desserts employ a dynamic duo of honey and nuts.
“Thank God we have a good business,” he said. “We’re not making money yet but we’ve been blessed by the reaction of our customers.”
“Everything we serve, we eat at home,” said George. ”It’s food that I grew up with and love.”
We’ve been to Yasou twice for takeout and we’ve been impressed.
One of our favorite items here is the traditional Greek soup, avgolemono. George tweaks the recipe a bit, leaving out rice, so it’s silkier than the usual version, an elegant comfort creation. The soup is made fresh daily with chicken stock, egg yolk and lemon, which adds a Spring brightness. We were hesitant to order it for a togo meal, but the soup traveled well and we just zapped it briefly in the microwave when home.
We’ve been wanting to try the spanakopita or spinach pie but it hasn’t been available on our visits. It’s on our must-have list for next time.
For other starters, consider baba ghanoush (an eggplant purèe), a lemony whipped feta or grape leaves. Yasou’s hummus is excellent, a homemade purèe of chickpeas, fresh garlic and tahini, topped with just the right amount of olive oil and paprika. All are served with warm pita bread.
It’s so easy to graze here, especially with dishes like salads and Greek fries, which are a winner. I have to admit I’m a fries fan and these are terrific, still crisp even when laden with feta, mozzarella, green onion and a bit of garlic butter with your choice of sauce — tzatziki, tahini, a spicy lemon spread, hot sauce or the Yasou Magic Sauce, a savory, garlic-based concoction with yogurt and spices. You can also get Yasou fries with your choice of gyro meat, chicken shawarma, beef shawarma or falafel and you pick the sauce.
The bulk of the menu features pita sandwiches served with fries, plates (with sides), a Fattah rice bowl, salads and burgers.
On our recent visit, my husband was happy with his juicy Grace burger, made with a mix of grilled beef and lamb, garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce, a delicious combination, served with fries.
Yasou offers a good selection of entrees with grilled shrimp kebabs and salmon as well as options with beef, chicken, gyro and falafel.
Other highlights on our visits were the gyro with tzatziki sauce and chicken shawarma, the meat cooked on a vertical broiler, served with pita bread, a fragrant yellow rice and a small Greek salad. You have a choice of sides, like hummus, fries or baba ghanoush or you can add more elaborate choices like an extra kebab, tabbouleh or soup for a small extra fee.
Yasou also offers a couple vegan items including a vegan kofta, Mediterranean salad and hummus along with several vegetarian dishes.
We don’t often get desserts for takeout but we couldn’t resist a sweet slice of flaky baklava — the baklava ice cream also sounded tempting for another trip.
Yasou serves Stella beer with a frozen head (like a slushy topping) as well as local beers including Proof’s 850 and Mango Wit and Deep Brewing Company’s Reef Dweller and Shallow End. The restaurant also serves wine on tap and by the bottle, with selections from Farmer’s Daughter Vineyards in Thomasville.
Starters are $4.95 to $11.95, fries are $2.99 to $8.99, soup and salads $4.49 to $8.99, pita sandwiches $8.59 to $9.99 and burgers are $8.95 to $9.95, plates $11.49 to $15.99, desserts $3.95 to $5.95 and kids’ meals $3.99 to $5.99.
Yasou Cafe is a welcome addition, serving freshly made, affordable dishes that work well whether you’re doing takeout or dining in or outdoors. George’s bottom line: “We invest in the best quality ingredients. We love our food and I think it shows in the product.”
If you go …
Yasou Cafe, 3551 Blairstone Rd. Suite 101; 850-692-3415
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.