The long-awaited, much-anticipated Aplos in Highland Village in Lefleur East is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
late June or early July August 7 at this point,” says the restaurant’s founder and one of its partners, Chef Alex Eaton.
After construction delays, including a round or two of redesign, the “simple Mediterranean” eatery is coming together.
“Instead of just saying ‘I’m Greek… I’m Lebanese… I’m Italian,’ I’m trying to fuse those cultures and say ‘I’m a Mediterranean restaurant.’ We’re essentially sandwiches, salads and pizzas,” Eaton explains.
“It’ll be affordable, under ten dollars. Bringing (partner) Wilson Hood (South Depot Taco Shop, Green Line, both in Oxford and Fondren Public in Jackson) on… his biggest attribute is keeping this simple. The whole time you are in (Aplos), I want you to think, ‘This is so simple. Why didn’t I think of that?’ Kind of like Company Burger in New Orleans. I mean, they’re serving burgers!”
Entrees will be pork, chicken, lamb or falafel based – as a sandwich or salad. Mediterranean-inspired sides and Greek frozen yogurt round out the menu. Pulled shawarma-style chicken will be a house specialty. Eaton explains that an authentic shawarma is onions, pickles (Persian cucumbers), potatoes (French fries), lettuce, garlic sauce – also known as toum sauce – and seasoned chicken wrapped in a pita.
Aplos will offer a full service, but limited, bar, serving Italian and Greek wines and Italian beers on draft; Michelob Ultra; and three Greek beers – two bottled lagers and one Greek craft beer from Santorini Brewing Company.
The footprint is small. Eaton and business partner Steven O’Neill look for there to be lots of to-go business with many diners enjoying their own patio along with the Highland Village courtyard.
The food will be good, sure. But it’s more important to have the feel, the aesthetic, he says. Eaton tells, “We’re trying to carve out a niche between a Newk’s and Sakura Bana experience, where you’re going for a particular cuisine and getting a good value.”
The Aplos Origin Story
Eaton never knew much about his Lebanese roots.
Always into Lebanese culture (his groom’s cake was a Lebanese flag), he says he didn’t fully understand his heritage.
“I had limited exposure on my Lebanese side because my grandmother died when I was seven,” Eaton recalls.
“But I knew I was always a little different. At Thanksgiving, we were eating grape leaves and kibbeh and I’d tell my friends and they’d think that was crazy.”
In his earlier culinary career in New Orleans, working at Dominica, Eaton says the northern Italian flare was influential.
He began researching his family tree on ancestry.com. And, he began eating healthier, following the Mediterranean diet (inspired by the eating habits of Greece, Northern Italy, and Spain in the 1940s and 1950s). It’s when Eaton realized he was taken with that kind of food.
“As I went through my career, and finally landed at The Manship (as executive chef) – a place that is a culmination of my experiences – I could do whatever I wanted,” Eaton says.
Researching gyros on Instagram, Eaton ran across Tony Cervone in San Francisco, the Chef and owner of a “fine casual” Greek spot, Souvla.
“I liked what they were doing, and thought, ‘I like Greek… Jackson people like Greek.’”
Eaton’s was a more authentic, more risqué restaurant idea with a similar concept as Cervone’s. Make it more ethnic. Add an Italian element with pizza. Tack on appetizers that are Lebanese. Of the four sandwiches, two would be Greek and two Lebanese.
The plan for Aplos began to take shape on paper.
Next stop, San Francisco
As it turns out, Cervone’s Souvla and The Manship have something in common: both use Sysco Foods products in their kitchens. A phone call to a rep later, Eaton had Cervone’s number and an invitation. A whirlwind 36-hour inspiration trip took him to San Francisco. The “friend of celebrities,” tech-savvy Cervone welcomed him with open arms.
Souvla’s cool atmosphere (“You feel like you are eating at an Apple store,” Eaton notes), great food, limited options, and a low price point? The inspiration for back home.
After putting together a probable Aplos menu, Eaton had second thoughts.
“I’m starting to think, I’m claiming to cook Lebanese food, but I only know a bit about what I read or what my grandma passed down,” he explains.
Part of the Lebanese club here, started in part by his great-grandfather, Eaton says their families have carried on the monthly meeting tradition of fellowship and food.
It’s there he met fellow member, Arthur Jones, whose grandfather and Eaton’s opened a fruit business long ago on Farish Street. Jones had always talked about going to Lebanon. His friend’s wedding last July made for a good excuse.
Jones asked Eaton to go. “I told my wife, ‘I have to go!” he says. “I explained, ‘It’s like opening a CrossFit gym without ever doing Crossfit.”
“I wanted to try their food, their chicken shawarma especially. I probably bought 50 shawarmas, but (fully) ate only ten,” Eaton says of his sampling of authentic flavors.
After that trip, Eaton has taken more educational adventures, more recently a trip to Philadelphia to work under James Beard award-winning chef Mike Solomonov at his Zahav restaurant.
“I met him in Oxford and he invited me up. I read his book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cuisine, and found a good hummus recipe.”
Hummus? That is easily relatable for the Jackson palate, Eaton says.
“Keifer’s opened the door for what I’m about to do,” he says of the well-known Jackson Greek restaurant in Belhaven. “How many people would have eaten tzatziki or tried feta without Keifer’s?”
Eaton hopes his food offers an elevated flavor profile, beyond what Jacksonians have tried. The big question remains: what can work in the South and not be too “out there.”
“It’s a fine line,” he quips. “There’s one side saying, ‘You’re going to freak everyone out’ and another saying ‘Go for it: do something different!’”