If there’s one thing Penny Christopher is passionate about, it’s cooking. And everyone on the North Shore knows it.
“Everyone knows my mother. She’s here all the time. And she does all the cooking. She’s front of the house. She does everything.”
“I’’ve been cooking forever.”
“She’s been doing this forever. She’s always been kind of the brains behind the operation.
“My mother’s cooking is the best. If you don’t eat, she’s offended, basically.”
“It’s simple. It’s made with love when I cook, I need my time. I don’t want to rush it. It’s not fancy. It’s delicious.”
And she and her son Paul will make you feel like family at Kouzina.
Located in this unassuming strip mall on Route One in Peabody, Kouzina is the latest restaurant by the Christopher family- industry veterans known for their Greek restaurants Brothers Kouzina and Gyro City. In their latest spot, they’ve created a warm, welcoming vibe reminiscent of the times they spent in Greece, where people can come together and feel like part of their extended family.
“Kouzina means kitchen in Greek. We named it because we wanted everything to be like, made from our kitchen at home brought to you here.”
“I wanted to bring a piece of Greece in here. So I went to Greece in November, and I start picking these old pieces.”
“We shipped in the pots, the chairs all from Greece. We wanted to make it as Greek as possible. When you step in here you don’t feel like you’re in a plaza. You feel like you’ve stepped into a restaurant in Greece.”
And with one bite of Penny’s food, you’ll most certainly feel like you’re in the Mediterranean, because it’s made simply with fresh ingredients and old world technique.
“Mediterranean cuisine is just a lot of salt, pepper, oregano, lemon, olive oil. Those are the staples of Mediterranean cooking. We don’t we don’t bury it with spices. We want you to taste the meat. Tastes the fish. Very simple.”
You can start your Greek culinary journey with some apps. There are classic spreads served with pita including homemade hummus, creamy tzatziki and a spicy feta dip. There also are Crispy zucchini fritters. Tender grilled octopus served over a fava puree and tasty Greek style meatballs.
“They’re a little different than an Italian style. We serve em with tzatziki sauce. Fry them in olive oil. They come on hot. Fry them in olive oil. There’s a little crunch at the beginning. The inside is very soft. There’s some mint in the meatballs too. It’s almost refreshing. They’re very delicious.”
But if you really want to light up your tastebuds, try the Saganaki.
Saganaki is imported and it’s pan fried with olive oil and we flame it with a little bit of Ouzo. It just gives it a little ouzo and then the look when it goes out to the customers. You know it gives it a little opa look.”
The most popular item on Kouzina’s menu hands down is their gyro and considering what goes into this sandwich, it’s no wonder.
We assemble the spits. We’ll get the meat . We’ll fillet it. Season it. We’ll let it sit and marinate and then we just start stacking. We have a special knife. And it’s a rotisserie blade. And it’s almost like getting a haircut. So you’re just cutting off the the crispy front layer. Fries inside, everyone’s still surprised. But if you go to Greece, there’s fries inside. It’s just heavenly.”
And for those who want to sample a little bit of everything, there’s the Pikilia.
“The Pikkilia is our sampler platter. It comes with souvlaki skewers, chicken gyro, pork gyro, Greek loukanico which pork belly, French fries, tomatoes, onions, pita bread, tzatziki sauce and honey mustard sauce, it comes out on a big board. When one goes out, everyone’s turning their heads like oh, what is that? What is that? And it’s very eye catching when you see it. We give you plenty to eat. And we want to make sure you leave here stuffed.”
There are classic Greek comfort foods like Moussaka topped with a rich Bechamel sauce. And the slow simmered lamb with orzo- a dish that takes time.
“When you cook food slowly. It simmers and the taste is better and it just gives you a different flavor. Everything takes so much time just because you cook it with love.”
And for a mashup of Italian and Greek, try Kouzina’s version of Bolognese; a dish Paul grew up on.
“The Greek Bolognese was like comfort food for me growing. Makaronia me kima. My mother would make it weekly. My sister and I would eat it.”
“I used to do it at home all the time. They loved it. And they grew up with that. So I put it here on the menu. It is Greek comfort food.”
“It’s very similar to an Italian Bolognese. However, the spices are a little bit different. It’s a little thicker than I guess a regular bolognese. But again, it’s delicious.”
And at dessert, it doesn’t get much better than Penny’s Baklava.
“It has cinnamon, clove and the walnuts, the butter. It just brings to another level. I take a piece. I can stop. I have to finish it.”
And with just one taste, you too will be part of the clean plate club at Kouzina.