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Zeuski’s goes Mediterranean

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Greece joins the Spanish, Italian and French

If you’ve pulled up a patio chair at Zeuski’s lately you may have spotted a few slight changes.

First of all, Zeus is gone. Not the name, but the logo. For almost 10 years the sign out the front has depicted a cartoon of a Greek-looking man – presumably the famous God Zeus – popping olives into his mouth. But now Zeus is no more.

In his place is a flourishing olive branch, with 10 olives for every year that Zeuski’s has been in business. Gone also is the blue and white familiar Greek colour codes, replaced instead with burgundy and olive green.

These changes may seem subtle but they represent some bold menu movements and room renovations in the popular Town Plaza restaurant.

"The sign represents all the enhancements we’ve made," said general manager, Mike Park. "In any good restaurant evolution is inevitable. You need to keep up with food trends and Greek these days seems a little dated in comparison to other Mediterranean dishes. It’ll come back into vogue again but it made sense to offer dishes from other areas in the region to suit a broader clientele."

Owner-operator John Grills added: "Greek is a good solid ethnic food that’s had a long history in Canada. When people talk about their favourite holidays, it’s generally Greece that gets a mention. It’s a good price point and a casual choice for diners so I don’t think it will ever totally be out of favour. But it’s definitely not as popular as other foods right now. I think with the Olympics in Greece next year, it’ll rise to the top again but the reality is if six people want to go out for dinner and one of them doesn’t want Greek, they won’t come. Now if they know we are Mediterranean, the ones who don’t want Greek can have Spanish, French or Italian. It gives them more choice and us more patronage."

Zeuski’s has been tinkering with the Mediterranean idea for the last 12 months, introducing small steps along the way. From slipping in some daily menu specials for trial, through to an internal paint job and new wine cellar, the management and staff have been busy with the overhaul. The work is not done yet though – a complete redesign of the lighting is in the works too.

Existing head chef Peter Langtry (who is soon to be replaced by the Fairmont Chateau’s Wes Owens), has been experimenting with the Mediterranean menu and you can expect a whole new slew of selections permanently in place by fall.

"We’re practising signature entrees daily at the moment in preparation, gauging people’s reactions to them to see what’s popular," said Park.

Greek fans don’t need to worry though – the staple foods and ouzo offerings will remain.

"I think people in general are moving away from heavy foods and Greek dishes like souvlaki and moussaka can typically be categorized as filling. These days people like to dine light and they are much more health conscious in terms of what goes into their dishes. So we’ve added a lot more seafood and vegetable-laden offerings," said Park.

The full eight-point rack of New Zealand lamb is still Zeuski’s signature dish, closely followed by the B.C. salmon – not exactly Mediterranean fare, but popular all the same when it comes to Whistler’s tourist trade. The calamari also walks out the door, whether it’s pan seared or deep fried the traditional way, demand is through the roof.

The wine list has also had a clean up. Bottle prices have dropped considerably in an effort to encourage more locals to the table.

"We wanted to increase the value for people who live here and it’s the wine lists in a lot of the restaurants here that keep locals away," said Park.

"The tourists are great but it’s the locals who are the ones that keep you going. They are here all year and they are your guests in the quiet times. They know what you’re serving and if you’ve got a $30 bottle of wine on the list that’s $10 in the liquor store, a local is going to see straight through it and go somewhere else."

Zeuski’s sits in the centre of a public square neighboured by the Spanish-influenced Caramba! restaurant and the French fine dining denizen Val d’ Isere. I ask Park how they are dealing with Zeuski’s Mediterranean move.

"There’s no question there’s some friendly rivalry out here among us but at the end of the day I think we all complement each other. We all offer different price points, different dishes and different settings, even though we represent the same geographic location – which I guess just proves what a huge range you can offer being Mediterranean influenced," said Park.

No doubt Zeuski’s has an advantage with their full views of Blackcomb Mountain and a large patio with year-round ceiling heaters, instant rain covers and a very cute outdoor bar area. But the restaurants "over the bridge" stick together all the same.

"Everyone told me us we were crazy to come over this side of town," said Grills. "Originally Zeuski’s was in the Delta at the base of Whistler but in ’96 we thought we’d move."

In those days anything past Village Gate Boulevard was considered the quiet zone, but Grills went anyway.

"We wanted a bigger space, a better long-term lease arrangement and the opportunity to start from scratch with this restaurant’s design," said Grills.

"Friends in the business would say that visitors would not want to cross over that bridge and I’d say to them that they’d be lucky if they crossed back," he laughed.

That definitely seems to be the case on this particular sunny afternoon. The patio is full, easy listening guitarist Jerry Legar is charming the crowd and life is good at Zeuski’s. Located at 4314 Main Street, open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Call 604-932-6009 for reservations.