The tasty food at KouZina is, unfortunately, not the type that could be easily snuck into the Main Theatre across the street. Not that I, myself, of course, would ever try to avoid paying $5.50 for a small popcorn. Surely a fair price! But for those who would seek alternate nourishment during the flick, a sloppy gyro, a cup of soup, a custardy bougatsa just won't work. Perhaps a square of baklava.
Visitors to the Main must have noticed the cute little building with the great location and the pointy roof. I visited KouZina after sitting hungry through The Trip to Italy at the theater. That's the road comedy about two guys eating their way from Liguria to Capri, with plenty of shots of gorgeous dishes as they're made and devoured. There's no comparison between Italian and Greek food or wine, of course — oddly, for such close neighbors. The Greeks seem to have put their energies into, oh, inventing democracy and building the Parthenon, rather than forging a world-class cuisine. Dishes can be on the un-subtle and heavy side; think moussaka, or retsina.
But Greek food was part of Detroit's eat-out culture long before other "ethnic" restaurants even had a toehold. We've always loved our gyros, even if some of us did pronounce it "jeye-ro."
So now KouZina owner Bobby Laskaris and his father, chef Panagiotis Laskaris, are taking some of the best-loved Greek dishes and offering them in big portions with small prices. Panagiotis was a chef in the late '60s and '70s in what Bobby calls "the golden age of Greektown."
There's no freezer or microwave at KouZina, which means "kitchen," and Panagiotis makes almost everything in-house, from Greek yogurt, pita chips, soups and hand-cut skin-on fries to the pork and chicken roasting on the vertical spits. The third spit cooks "the original," a mix of beef and lamb that's put together from KouZina's recipe by an outfit in Chicago.
The resulting shaved-off thin slabs aren't pretty to look at, but they are succulent. It's worth reviewing how that happens: The upper parts of the rotating cone of meat are closer to the flame, and they drip luscious liquid fat onto the lower parts, producing a semi-fried effect. If the kitchen worker shaves slices from all parts of the cone, the result is a mix of the meat's different tastes and textures.
KouZina's biggest seller, at 2,000 per month, is "the Bobby," a gyro wrap, invented by customers, that includes all three meats, or really four. At $7.50, it's a steal, juicy with red onions, tomatoes, and your choice of mild tzatziki sauce or feta with roasted red peppers and cayenne. The pita wrap for this or the other gyros can be regular, multigrain, or gluten-free. There's a veggie wrap too, with, naturally, beets, spinach, and cucumbers.
It's a childlike pleasure to watch the ball of pita dough go through the flattening machine and come out as a circle to be wrapped around your order.
A slightly different effect is achieved in the gyro bowl, which basically substitutes rice (white or brown) for pita. The meat and feta are generous, and it's very satisfying.
Carb-avoiders can order a loaded Greek salad, which includes olives and chickpeas, and, if you like, meat.
Soups are traditional avgolemono, thick and very lemony, or a vegetarian lentil, which is mild and not as successful. Spinach pie comes in a big slab with pastry layers above and below — despite the "street food" moniker, this is not a hand-held device. I found to my surprise that the supplied plastic knife actually cut the pie!
Fries can be dressed up with sprinkled feta, which adds a good tang contrast to the fatty spuds. A mix of 16 seasonings is shaken on at the fryer.
I love the super-honeyed sweetness of baklava, but not everyone does; KouZina has milder dessert options. Yogurt with fruit on top is one, but more impressive is warm bougatsa, which is lemony custard surrounded by layers of phyllo, then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. It feels earthy and angelic at the same time.
KouZina boasts a brick courtyard surrounded by evergreens that are studded with tiny winking lights, and its own parking lot. But don't abuse the privilege, since the Main has one, too.