Evangelos Topalidis outside Kalimera - New Haven, CT

Temple on Temple

Evangelos Topalidis wants to cook for you. You should want him to cook for you, too.

The passionate chef-owner of newish Greek eatery Kalimera speaks of food as sustenance not just for the body but also the soul. Many of his ingredients are imported from Greece, right down to the tea leaves, which Topalidis blends himself.

I began a midday meal at Kalimera by sampling two enormous bowls of steaming hot soup: a mushroom special ($6) made from an old northwest Greek recipe, its slightly creamy texture derived from onions; and Avgolemono ($6), a hearty, lemony, egg-based soup with moist shreds of chicken.

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The Dolmadakia ($9.50)—grape leaves stuffed with rice and seasoned with a light touch of dill and mint—were tender and tightly wrapped, delicious with a side of tzatziki sauce. Also tasty was the pork souvlaki ($14.50), which had a nice crackle, and the chicken version ($15.50), which was tender. Even better was the gyro platter ($14.50) of delicately seasoned, moist shredded pork.

My favorite dish was the one the server, Fani, suggested: an appetizer of fried feta cheese crusted with black and white sesame seeds and dressed with homemade tomato marmalade ($14.50). It must be eaten warm, Fani said, so I put fork to feta right away. A slight crunch outside yielded to soft cheese inside, while the marmalade was sweet with just a hint of acid, making a delightful combination. Though it’s listed on the menu as an appetizer, it would also make a satisfying dessert.

Topalidis insists the best way to eat is seasonally. In the summer, he says, “You don’t eat meat… You need fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese with some olive oil and one piece of bread, and that’s it. You’re ready. You’re set.” Likewise, he thinks, winter vegetables like broccoli and rapini are best now. Nevertheless, Kalimera’s menu includes seasonal salads year-round, like the summery Xoriatiki ($12) featuring tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, olives and feta cheese.

Other offerings include Greek favorites such as Mousaka ($14.50) and Oven Roasted Lamb ($24) as well as two vegetarian entrees: Imam (eggplant halves stuffed with herbed tomato and onion, $13) and Briam (oven-baked zucchini, eggplant and potatoes in tomato sauce, also $13). Seafood selections range from Calamarakia (fried calamari, $14) to Lavraki, a grilled European sea bass ($24). Also offered is a selection of homemade spreads served with pita, including Xtipiti (spicy feta with olive oil, $7), Melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant, $7) and Scordalia (garlic and potato, $5).

Located on Temple Street below Crown, Kalimera occupies a space that has seen high turnover—Himalayan Restaurant, Orangeside and Black Olive, to name the last three tenants. But once you get past the imposing concrete overhang of the Temple Street Garage, Kalimera feels bright and cheerful, with clean white tables and chairs upholstered in Mediterranean blue.

While the front of house is easygoing, the back of house is serious. Topalidis has worked as a chef for 22 years, 14 of them teaching European cooks food preparation, kitchen cleanliness and menu development. Cooking, he says, is a journey, and you must use all your senses. Children who grow up with a mother who’s a good cook, he believes, have an easier time becoming good cooks themselves, accustomed to a “high level of taste.” Topalidis had such a mother, who also taught him that “when you cook, you have only to cook. Leave all other things because cooking nice food the most beautiful situation of life: the table, the family…”

And while Kalimera can’t give you the family, it can give you the nice food and the table.

25 Temple St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sun 11am-10pm
(203) 691-6208
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Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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