Greek Unorthodox

Calypso Café fires up south Minneapolis’s next hot restaurant corner

ALL MEALS SHOULD BEGIN the way ours did at Calypso: with a shot of strong Turkish coffee, a waitress hollering “opa,” and a first course set ablaze. “I’ve never had a flame that big,” our waitress admitted as she extinguished our kasseri-cheese fireball. She laughed and clutched her chest. “My heart raced a little.”

Calypso, a new Greek fusion restaurant in south Minneapolis, is something to get excited about. Its location, at the intersection of Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue, is turning into a cultural crossroads. If Nicollet Avenue is Eat Street, this is Cuisine Corner: there’s Japanese (Midori’s Floating World Café), Ethiopian (Dashen), Latin (Café of the Americas, Manny’s Tortas), and American (Town Talk Diner, good old Denny’s). With a farmers’ market and a YWCA down the block from the rainbow-flag-flying Patrick’s Cabaret, Hi-Lake is becoming the next nexus of diversity. And, of course, condos are coming.

With the neighborhood gentrifying, Adam Johnson, Calypso’s 25-year-old owner (whose Palestinian-born father ran Omar’s Oasis by the University of Minnesota), is wise to pay attention to presentation. The restaurant’s paprika-hued paint job does more for the ambiance than the art students’ paintings, but, at first glance, what really distinguished Calypso from other inexpensive ethnic restaurants was the careful arrangement of food on plates. Would the flavors set it apart as well?

Eric Moore

The answer was yes in the case of the sautéed chicken, garnished with an origami-folded lemon slice. Ditto for the sides (entrées come with your choice of two): the colorful tabbouleh packed enough raw garlic to linger on the breath for hours, and the cinnamon-tinged carrots, fresh broccoli, green beans, and salads were all dressed to enhance, not mask, the vegetables’ inherent flavor. We were suspicious of the moussaka (a traditional casserole of ground beef or lamb, eggplant, and potatoes), because it was served like a scoop of hotdish, instead of the typical layered wedge. And rightly so: the flavors were as blah as the presentation.

The falafel balls were the only dish that deceived us. Typically, falafel makes a casual meal—stuffed into a foil-wrapped pita, slopped with cucumber sauce, and eaten on the go. But served as an entrée at Calypso, the pucks were elegantly queued up on a platter like rocks in a hot-stone massage. Sadly, we’d have mistaken them for exactly that if they’d been any drier.

What is falafel doing at a Greek restaurant anyway? Johnson says he dubbed the restaurant “fusion” so he could include some of his father’s Middle Eastern recipes, plus everything from stir-fries, to hamburgers, to pastas, to an outrageous “Greek nacho” appetizer: fried pita chips topped with feta, spinach, olives, gyro meat, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted garlic cloves. The crisp, addictive, oil-soaked chips were a hit (and a possible candidate for a Minnesota State Fair snack?).

Compared to its range of food offerings, Calypso’s beverage list seems limited. As we polished off a slice of Kahlúa-kissed tiramisu, we hoped the restaurant would soon be granted a liquor license. What better drink to pair with flaming cheese than a flaming cocktail?

Calypso Café
3009 27th Ave. S.,
Minneapolis, 612-724-8071
Lunch and dinner served Wed.—Mon.
Appetizers $5—11, entrées $7—$22