Assad Khoury says once your mouth has a savor of authentic Greek food—not the “watered-down versions”—the palate becomes trained to crave more.
And let’s get one thing straight: He’s not referring to falafel, hummus or Greek salads with iceberg lettuce.
“Those dishes are served in Greek restaurants but are a combination of other Mediterranean dishes,” Khoury, 53, says of the Greek eateries that serve a pattern of pita and dips.
Khoury and Sofia Karakasidou, his wife and business partner, brought their fragrant dishes to the Moorestown Mall’s food court last December, opening Kuzina Express in the counter space formerly occupied by Arby’s restaurant, and briefly by Bubby’s Brisket.
Karakasidou, 42, who trained as a chef in her native Greece, moved to New Jersey eight years ago. For a short time she helped out in a friend’s restaurant, but she wanted to parlay her craft and open her own place. Before meeting his wife through mutual friends, Khoury worked in the food industry and sold Point of Sale (POS) computer equipment to meet the needs of restaurants.
“The one thing Sofia noticed was that there really weren’t any traditional Greek restaurants here, not like what she was used to back in Greece,” Khoury says, whose own heritage is Greek and Lebanese.
Married seven years ago, the couple saw a real niche for younger to middle-age professionals, who are health-conscious and willing to try foods like succulent bronzino and charbroiled lamb shanks. The supreme idea was to serve familiar Greek fare, but offer a more bona fide take on the cuisine, infused with fresh vegetables in dishes like moussaka.
After searching, the partners opened the fine dining room, Kuzina by Sofia—which ironically housed another Greek restaurant before they arrived—in the Saw Mill Village on Route 70 in Cherry Hill in 2007.
Happily for the partners, the 49-seat taverna has been lauded locally and has received the Zagat rating.
This past summer, the restauranteurs operated a food stand during a Camden Riversharks game at Campbell’s Field selling en masse their Greek sandwiches to hungry patrons.
“People stepped away from dollar hot dogs to buy from us,” Khoury says with a chuckle. “We got the idea we might be on to something.”
With the sit-down restaurant running successfully, the Voorhees residents turned their sights to opening an abbreviated version of their concept somewhat close by, which brought them to Moorestown.
The menu, which is especially deep in starters, salads and sandwiches, is predominantly a scaled-down version of all the Greek dishes Karakasidou has exemplified at the original Kuzina, which means "kitchen" in Greek.
The spanakopita is light and flaky with a perfect filling of spinach and feta cheese. Folds of honey and chopped nuts ooze from the baklava, a scrumptious, rich dessert.
Carnivores get their due too, with the traditional gyro, or jī-rō—”most people do not pronounce it correctly,” Khoury says—which come grilled and wrapped with drippings down your hands. Bring on the wet naps.
Khoury isn’t sure how, or if, the —sitting at the far end of the food court—and the will impact his eatery. For now, Kuzina Express has a three-year lease with the mall owners, regardless of the controversial changes anticipated there.
Before long, Khoury is thinking of expanding his express novelty into Mercer County and Philadelphia, if business catches on.
“Business has been steady,” Khoury says, “but patrons are still learning about the menu.”
For traditional and modern Greek cuisine, visit Kuzina Express 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday. Catering and takeout available, 856-787-0777.