Many accolades have been bestowed upon Stix and Pita since it opened its doors in the Sydney inner west suburb of Enmore two years ago. First über cool website Urban List included them in their Best Cheap Eats in Australia list and gave them the title of best Greek street food outside of Athens.
Then the Greek eatery won the International Traveller’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards for best Greek food in Sydney, and last weekend they were featured in the Sunday Telegraph’s lifestyle section. So, Neos Kosmos gladly accepted the mission to find out why Greeks and non-Greeks alike are flocking to the Hellenic eatery.
Stix and Pita co-owner Elvis Korsovitis, 45, was born in Athens and came to Australia in 1986 with his mum who is from Tripoli and his dad who is from Larissa.
When Korsovitis was growing up his parents owned a fruit shop. At age 16 he started a chef apprenticeship but gave up due to an illness in the family. A few years later he left the fruit shop and worked in a number of fish shops before finally following his original goal by becoming a chef where he honed his skills at restaurants in Lane Cove.
While he learnt how to cook in Australia, Elvis says the inspiration for Stix and Pita came from the time he spent growing up in Greece.
“Our stix in Stix and Pita are the souvlakia that I grew up eating in Loutraki,” he says.
“The ones I remember the most were in the summer when we would leave Loutraki and go to my mum’s village in Tripoli via the old mountain roads at a place we would stop along the way called Myloi.
“Every time we drove there we would pass a souvlaki shop and me and my brother – we were eight and 10 at the time – and we would bust our dad’s balls saying, ‘stop, stop, you’ve gotta stop.’ This was our thing. We knew that my dad wouldn’t stop if we weren’t good boys, so for the whole drive which was about six hours from the time we left till we got to my mother’s village, we were perfect.”
On arrival at Myloi, the Korsovitis brothers would tear into their souvlakia and Elvis says he would feel like a king.
“That’s all you needed,” he says. “The stall was one of those souvlaki shacks that you find in Greece in every village. Absolutely traditional and you could smell it from miles away. The closer you got there, the closer the scent got. And you’re like a werewolf, you start changing.”
Elvis says that what he’s tried to do at Stix and Pita is create a time machine.
“People who have grown up in Greece give us plenty of compliments,” he says proudly. “We are constantly told that, ‘this is the best souvlaki that I’ve ever had in Australia. It takes me back to my childhood’.
“Most of our success is that we use beautiful cuts of meat. It’s very simple, but very expensive. People don’t realise this until they come and eat it and then they say, ‘now we understand.’
“For argument’s sake [take] our lamb; we use lamb rump that takes anything between an hour-and-a-half to two-and-a- half hours to cook. All our meats are marinated and seasoned for 36 hours. Our lamb kleftiko is different, it’s cooked for 11 hours.”
Elvis’s partner is brother-in-law Jim Koutsogeorgis, 41, who was born and bred in Sydney – his dad is from Kos and mum is also from Tripoli. He started in the industry with his family owning several takeaway shops that cooked with charcoal, but then opened an Italian restaurant in Annandale called Zenith on Booth which earned a hat that it kept for three years.
So, the crucial factor that unites both Koutsogeorgis and Korsovitis is charcoal.
At Stix and Pita, it is at the centre of their business and besides the meats, even the spanakopita is cooked on the fire. Korsovitis says cooking with charcoal is a primordial urge that goes back to early humans.
“It’s primal,” he says.
“It’s from thousands of years ago when you were killing an animal and then cooking it on charcoal because it was the only means of cooking. It’s in our DNA. When people walk into a shop and see charcoal, their eyes light up. It’s like little kids in the toy store. It’s like ‘wow, there’s food turning, it’s on the charcoal!’
“When I was growing up every single shop had charcoal in Greece. When it is 40 degrees outside, next to the charcoal it’s 60 degrees. So, you’re suffering to cook something on charcoal. But we do it because we love it. People that use charcoal should be the ones that get the glory.”
If you thought Elvis was passionate about charcoal hearing him talk about his love of bread, specifically pita, is a whole other level.
“We make our own pita bread. That’s it. Enough said,” he says. “I can’t really tell you anymore. It’s one of my grandmother’s recipes.”
But after some pleading Neos Kosmos learns the secret of what makes Stix and Pita’s food unique.
“When I went to visit my grandmother’s village she used to make little pita breads for us,” he says.
“My grandfather was a butcher and he used a little stone plate that was carved underneath where he put charcoal and it becomes like a stovetop. It was a very clever device.
“So, she used to make pita breads and throw them on top. There used to be these bubbly little pita breads coming up and we thought it was sensational. One day when I was eight or nine years old, I was being a little shit and I grabbed one from her hand and threw it on the wall. She went slowly, slowly and picked it up and looked at me straight in the eyes and told me, ‘you should show the adequate respect when you’re handling bread’.”
And that respect for good quality, handmade food is at the heart of the Stix and Pita ethos.
“This is what we’re about,” Elvis confirms. “We’re about people wanting to keep coming back because they know everything is made in the premises. I can’t emphasise that enough. That encapsulates us. Everything is made in house”.
The success of Stix and Pita means that Jim and Elvis will soon be opening another store in Hurstville which Elvis describes as like Enmore, but on steroids.
“This is going to give more people the opportunity to try our food,” he says.
“It’s just a bigger place. The problem we’re having here is that we have outgrown the space. We don’t have enough tables and chairs and we keep disappointing people. We hate watching people lining up on the street and having to wait for one hour.
“So, we thought the next place that we’re going to do won’t be too far from here where we can take bookings, do a christening on a Sunday, and take a booking for 30 people on a Saturday night and we don’t have to worry where are we going to sit everyone.
“We have no delusions of opening up 50 stores. This is not what we’re about, but a second store needed to be opened and we’re not franchising anything. Our partners will be family friends and relatives, so it’s all going to stay within our community.”
Stix and Pita is located at 3/216 Enmore Rd, Sydney, NSW. For more, visit stixandpita.com.au/