Featuring this month: Mariakakis, The Keg Room, and Greek Quarter Restaurant best known as Kwikee Takeout.
Under various sedimentary names this restaurant, located on the fringe of Eastgate off 15-501, has been popular since it first opened in 1964. Actually Mr. Mariakakis had run the Marathon in the forties and early fifties, so the production itself is a Chapel Hill folkway. It has always been a favorite eating place, not only for the excellent Greek and Italian food, but also for the dramatic value of the clientele in terms of modern theater. It is this reviewer’s educated guess that the Kwikee, as it is known among the illuminati, has the most variegated caste since independence, liberation and fraternity.
I mean, you see all kinds of people there; groups like it too. Like after a seminar when the floor shifts over to beer and pizza at the Kwikee or the soccer scrimmage replayed with napkins, forks, and knives, with anchovy making the final goal. A bevy of secretaries celebrating an engagement; sorority sisters looking for brothers; a pair of longhaul drivers stopping for a brew while the A&P stews outside in the sun; a family which stays together, eating in silence except for the bratty kid who wants more ketchup. Once an entire wedding from dearly beloved to the wedding cake cutting and once three poets in a corner discussing prophecy.
The only other entertainment is a jukebox featuring country and western.
The wine list at the Kwikee includes an assortment of domestic and imported at reasonable restaurant prices: California wine by Almaden (a bottle of zinfandel $3.50; mountain reds both $3.00); New York State — Great Western and Taylor (bottle of Lake Country, all colors, $3.00 — as well as Chateau Laurent champagnes like Cold Duck $5.00 a bottle). Also in stock are popular European wines: Mateaus, Liebfraumilch and Chianti, among others. Unidentified wines are served by the glass — 60¢ per, except for retsina, Greek resinated wine, which is 75¢ for a glass or $4.50 a bottle. Restina’s unique, piney-woods taste should make it popular among Tarheels. Some complain it tastes like turpentine, but taste is only a word, whereas a glass of Retsina can take you back to Greece to the white washed island of Mykynos. A bottle should carry you and your companions right into a Greek cafe where donkey drivers and shopkeepers gather for an afternoon and dance a few hours, their white skirts swirling in the clear Hellenic light.
Ouzo, which is really the best for sipping while sitting with friends or even alone, cannot of course be served at the Kwikee because it is classified as a spirit and may only be purchased by state law in a properly designated place. These same laws prevent your drinking any real foreign-brewed beer because state government allows you only 3.2 beer. Despite this serious drawback, Kwikee claims with justification the most extensive beer stock in Chapel Hill. Foster’s Lager, a favorite Aussie brew, comes in a 25-ounce container and costs $1.35. English beer and ales are available, although the imagination shrinks at the thought of 3.2 Guinness Stout. German, Irish, Japanese, Mexican, Philippine, French and Greek beer are kept in stock as well as standard American brews. Kwikee also serves light or dark beer by the glass, 45¢, or pitcher, $1.75.
Your wine is served in standard stemmed glasses and the beer and other cold beverages in water glasses. Hot drinks, including espresso, arrive in standard coffee cups (unavailability of demi-tasse is the Kwikee’s explanation). At least your beverage is not served in plastic cups or styrofoam containers; on the other hand the wine is not served in chalices or the beer in tankards.
Food is served on plates and in most cases the portions are adequate. One notable exception: Our Greek Salad, giant, contains more than enough lettuce, feta cheese, olives green and black, peppers etc. for one person and is best ordered to be shared as a salad by three or more. Needless to say, all food is prepared in the Kwikee kitchen from scratch.
Greek dishes include ntolmadakia, which are grapevine leaves, stuffed with a mildly spiced meat mixture; pastisio, which is Greek lasagna made with elbow macaroni rather than flat pasta; and mousaka, a lamb and eggplant dish. Special attention should be paid to spanacoptyta (spinach and feta strudel) and teropyta (mixed cheese strudel) because of the excellence of the pastry, which like all Kwikee breadfood is made at the Mariakakis Bakery next door. Thus, it is as fresh and tasty as chapatti in a London restaurant, teriyaki in Honolulu, lox and bagel on the Upper West Side, smoke-cured ham in Smithfield or Kentucky, fried chicken at a church picnic.
The quality of Mariakakis bakery also explains the yumminess of Kwikee pizza crust. The toppings for pizza (available by the slice or pie, small or large) run the usual gamut from anchovy to everything (one slice deluxe: 75¢). The sauce is unusually good (all Kwikee tomato sauces are prepared without sugar) and I just wish they would lay on a little more.
The menu is impressively international: American dishes are standard fried stuff. The Polish dish is similar to ntolmadakia, except that cabbage leaves are used as wrapping rather than grapevine. Curry is prepared fresh with standard American curry powder.
Desserts come from Mariakakis bakery and the brownies are especially scrumptious — large and chewy and very chocolate. Other pastries include a variety of cookies and bakalava, honey, raisins and other yummies layered in flaky pastry. The taste is somewhat Cyprian: a cross between Greek honey and Turkish nuts. This is a very rich dessert and quite dear in terms of calories. That is somewhat the same amount (multiplied per capita) we owe the Greek people in terms of what we paid their colonels. It’s a rather heavy dish to follow a rich meal.
Bakalava and pizza, ntolmadakia and spanacopyta, spaghetti and lasagna are as authentic in taste and texture as any you’ll find in Chapel Hill outside a private home.
All in all, Kwikee is a good restaurant when you’ve got the munchies; the variety of food and drink offers a wide range for your tummy. Also it’s a nice place to visit when you just want to hang out. But watch out for their busy hours (the Kwikee is open weekdays and Saturdays 11 till midnight, although they stop serving at 11:30 and on Sunday 4 - 8:30). The capacity of the rooms is about 175 and when the rush is on, the serving staff is really pushed. If you arrive at a busy hour, be prepared to wait.