TARPON SPRINGS — A 50-minute conversation with the owner. A choose-your-own-adventure model where guests more or less design their own meal. A three-hour dinner on a Tuesday night.
Quirky Fork in Tarpon Springs does things a little bit differently. And it’s a lot of fun.
Owner Andonia Elefteriou opened her petite restaurant and cafe on the corner of Hibiscus Street and E Tarpon Avenue in May 2021. Described as a “Euro fusion” cafe, the restaurant’s menu changes daily and is tailored to the whims and wishes of diners.
“I don’t call it a restaurant — it’s our culinary home,” Elefteriou said. “When you sit at our house, you are now part of our family.”
Shortly after we’re seated, Elefteriou pulls up a chair.
She wants to know if we are dog people. We are, we tell her.
Then Elefteriou gets down to business. First, there’s a round of questions, things like: What foods do we hate? I tell her I’ll eat just about anything, but am not keen on overly sweet things. My dining companions are equally adventurous — there are stipulations about dill pickles, organ meats and olives, but other than that, we’re game.
Next up, spice: Elefteriou explains that she’s not the type of cook who wants to burn your taste buds off: “I’m not talking about ghost peppers here.”
We are all spice lovers. Bring it on.
At some point in the conversation, we turn toward a chalkboard menu perched in the corner of the room. Elefteriou walks us through the menu, detailing the preparation of every dish, emphasizing that everything can be tweaked and reimagined to our liking. If we don’t want a cream sauce with that lobster ravioli? Let’s make it red! Would you rather something be vegan or gluten-free? No problem.
“My board is like Cliffs Notes,” she tells us. “We’ll write your culinary novel together.”
Elefteriou intersperses her narrative with witty anecdotes and details about her past. (We learn she’s Greek, she once lived in New York, and she has her own line of spice blends.) Her dark, bouncy curls shake when she laughs, which is often, but she is no-nonsense when it comes to her cooking.
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Finally, she asks: If we could go anywhere in the world — just to eat — where would we go? I say Mexico, and she looks a little stumped. I elaborate: Oaxaca, or the Baja Peninsula — seafood, smoke and spice. My dining companions chime in with northern Italy and Greece.
That combination lands us in Morocco, although I’m not quite sure how. But Elefteriou is on a roll, talking excitedly about her 15-ingredient ras el hanout blend. She pushes her chair back and walks to the kitchen. Fifty minutes later, our dinner is on its way.
This isn’t Elefteriou’s first restaurant. It’s not even the first iteration of Quirky Fork — Elefteriou ran a cafe with the same name in Palm Harbor several years ago and was in the process of expanding to a 200-seat spot in Trinity when the pandemic squashed those plans.
A self-taught cook who describes her culinary education as “Le Cordon Bleu-ish,” Elefteriou, 50, runs her new, much smaller restaurant with her daughter and business partner Alexia, 24.
The 800-square-foot space decorated with artwork and plants fits them much better, Elefteriou said. It’s more intimate, with more opportunities to get to know her diners.
And though the name is the same, the concept is very different than its predecessor. During the day, the spot acts as a coffee shop and cafe serving breakfast and lunch. But in the evenings, the menu shifts to the design-your-dream-meal model (because of this, Elefteriou maintains a strict reservation policy and usually doesn’t seat more than four tables per night).
The tactic suits both Elefteriou’s charismatic, chatty demeanor as much as it does the current culinary landscape: With the ongoing supply chain shortages, changing up the menu nightly based on what’s available just works best.
Of course, it is a curious approach. With just Elefteriou and her daughter running the show, the overhead is low. But given the time Elefteriou spends with some of her customers, it’s hard to imagine what a night looks like with a packed house.
Elefteriou doesn’t seem to mind. She never flips tables. She enjoys a “euphoric high” whenever a customer tells her they like her cooking, she said.
“I’m not looking to get on the cover of Forbes magazine,” she said. “I’m doing this because it’s my passion — because it’s an experience.”
While passing tables, Elefteriou makes sure that every diner hears her most important pitch, the one she says is closest to her heart: If you know anyone down on their luck or in need of a meal, she tells them, dinner is on the house.
“No questions asked.”
Roughly an hour and a half after we sit down, our first dishes arrive.
Elefteriou calls the presentation “tapas on steroids,” and the description is fitting. Everything is meant to be shared.
We start with slices of baguette, toasted and slathered with briny kalamata olive tapenade. (One is topped with hummus, since one of us isn’t an olive fan.) Next up, there’s some sort of artichoke, pesto and ricotta hybrid — it’s hot, cheesy and creamy, not unlike a spinach and artichoke dip, flecked with herbs and served with more baguette.
Then, a large meze platter appears, toppling with tender chunks of pork souvlaki, kasseri cheese and loukaniko sausage — a taut, grilled link flavored with fennel seed and orange rind. There’s also toasted pita, a medley of fresh veggies and Elefteriou’s signature tzatziki, for dipping.
We all agree this is the strongest dish so far — the crispy coins of loukaniko are packed with flavor, and Elefteriou’s tzatziki (made with one of her spice blends and sour cream) is smooth and creamy, absent the acerbic bite of raw garlic.
Then, our main course arrives: a plate of gnocchi and chicken, all swimming in a creamy, almost currylike sauce that’s packing a ton of heat. This is our trip to Italy (pasta) and Morocco (Elefteriou’s famous ras el hanout blend). Mexico and Greece? Not so much.
For dessert, we’re back in familiar territory, with a list of desserts to choose from. We opt for a white chocolate and cherry cobbler that arrives warm, straight out of the oven. Topped with buttery, sugary cake crumbles, it’s got that great not-quite-baked gooey center — we’re all mad for it.
At some point, the check arrives. We’re not really sure what anything cost (are we even sure what we ate?), but all together, including a reasonably priced bottle of Cote du Rhone, the tab for our dinner for three comes to $115. We are stuffed and more than entertained, so no complaints.
Roughly three hours after we arrived, we’re out the door.
The meal was good, we agree, if a little strange. Definitely quirky. But that was the point, right?
If you go
Where: 26 Hibiscus St., Tarpon Springs. 727-940-2415. thequirkyfork.com.
Hours: Breakfast pastries, coffee and lunch, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $14; entrees, $24 and up.
Don’t skip: Loukaniko sausage, cherry and chocolate cobbler.
Details: Cash, credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Full vegan and gluten-free menus available.