Before nightfall on Thursday, a new Greek restaurant space on Eastern Avenue buzzed with the sound of a martini shaker mixing drinks as delicately positioned appetizers — phyllo-wrapped feta cheese dipped in honey, fried calamari with squid’s ink and lemon, and roasted lamb’s leg among them — made rounds on silver trays through the crowd.

The grand opening of Estiatorio Plaka, Greektown’s newest authentic restaurant and bakery, included several of the city and state’s top officials as a way to honor the history of Greek Americans in Baltimore and signify support to their community.

Several high-profile officials, such as Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman, Congressman John Sarbanes and Mayor Brandon Scott arrived at the opening, some of whom, like Sarbanes, have Greek family heritage. Estiatorio Plaka “shows our traditions,” Sarbanes said, adding that owner John Zoulis has been both a friend and a community member of Greektown for more than 30 years.

“This was a wonderful investment from him,” Sarbanes said. “This is a beautiful location, a large restaurant and banquet space, that the community can take advantage of.”

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Cardin was also impressed with the strength of Greek American culture in this cultural section of the city and said he looks to the area with nostalgia: He has represented the community in Congress since 1987. His presence at the eatery, he said, was to “underscore the importance of this event.”

Estiatorio Plaka owner John Zoulis, left, and Sen. Ben Cardin at the restaurant’s grand opening. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“Greek culture has always been a strong community here and its economics attract visitors because of the restaurants and the food,” Cardin said. “This will draw people in, and to other places in Greektown, because not only is John a great guy, but his food is fantastic.”

Zoulis said the dishes are a blend of old, classic recipes twisted with other Mediterranean flavors, such as cinnamon, tomato and ginger. Display cases in the restaurant showcased red snappers, mussels and crayfish on a bed of crushed ice.

Estiatorio Plaka’s space is likely familiar to those with an affinity for Greek food in Charm City: The restaurant opened in the former Acropolis Restaurant, which closed in 2019 after 33 years in service, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The new restaurant’s interior sparkled with champagne-colored walls and arched doorways. A candlelit blessing called “agiasmo,” or blessing of water, was performed Thursday as part of the Greek tradition when a new place opens.

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Father Manuel Burdusi, center, conducts a religious blessing next to the Zoulis family, which owns Greektown’s Estiatorio Plaka. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“I helped to build the restaurant three, four months back,” said Emmauel Halkias, a good friend of Zoulis who immigrated from Greece to Greektown in 1981 and never left.

Though the demographics of the neighborhood have changed over the years, Greek culture has continued to thrive through food, festivals, parades and architecture, like the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which has stood at its current location between Maryland Avenue and Preston Street since 1937.

Nikolaos Karellas, 25, a lifetime Greektown resident who helps maintain Karellas Cafe, his family’s restaurant nearby, said the opening and the attention it received from people with power “brings hope to the community.”

It also revealed the close-knit, Greek American community that has united to bring each bite of cinnamon-dusted rice pudding, chewy walnut and chocolate crescent-shaped kariokes and other classic Greek flavors to life in the city.