Timothy Hontzas, right, has opened a restaurant on 18th Street that follows his grandfather Johnny’s philosophy to prepare “good food to feed the soul.”
Chef Timothy Hontzas’s pedigree speaks volumes on the influences of Johnny’s, the restaurant he opened in September.
His papou (Greek for grandfather), Johnny Hontzopolous, emigrated from Greece in 1921 and ran Johnny’s Restaurant in Jackson, Miss. His cousin, Gus Hontzas, owned Niki’s West, a meat and three tradition in downtown Birmingham, after working at Johnny’s in Jackson. Another cousin owned John’s City Diner in Birmingham.
Hontaz learned a passion for food from his mentor, Chef John Currence, whom he worked under at City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. for 11 cumulative years. Hontzas’s sounding board for all his restaurant ideas, his wife, Beth, is a former Southern Living food photographer.
A first glance at the chalkboard menu shows a typical Southern meat and three, but a closer look (and taste) reveals Hontzas’ Greek heritage and fine dining background.
All ingredients are fresh, and many are local. The purple hull peas come from Blount County, the squash and tomatoes and collards are local. Johnny’s breads its own whole okra and green tomatoes. Daily vegetables will change in and out with seasons.
The daily menu serves baklava and a Greek salad with citrus marinated olives, sumac, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, salonika peppers and a vinaigrette made with olive oil from Tsitalia, the region of Greece where Hontzas’ family is from.
The Friday special is Pastitio, a Greek lasagna, and the Sunday special is a Pork Souvlaki (meat grilled on a skewer) with House Tzatziki, a yogurt-cucumber sauce. Hontzas is planning Spanikopita, spinach and cheese hand pies; Dolmades, beef and rice; and Fasolakia, Greek green beans, for future daily specials.
From the daily menu, Hontzas recommends trying the Greek Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie and Parmesan Grit Cake.
His fine dining background comes out in the Thursday special, Grilled Salmon with Jalapeno-Lime Glaze, and will continue to shine as the menu evolves. Whatever he adds to his chalkboards must meet one test though: his papou’s philosophy, “We prepare food for the body, but good food to feed the soul.”
Hontzas is quick to speak of how his love for Homewood drew him to the former DiGiorgio’s Out Takes location. He had seen a void left in the area after Anchorage, a meat and three restaurant on 18th Street, closed in 2008 after 67 years of business.
Hontzas worked with Courtney Pigford and Wilcox construction on the interior of the building to make it reflect the Southern yet “hip” feel he wanted for the space. They opened up the kitchen and outfitted the dining room with chopping block tables, red pennant lighting and some bench seating.
On the walls hang black and white photos of Hontzas’s grandfather as well as type set prints made graphic designer Micah Whitson, an Athens, Ala. native, with southern phrases like “I heart bacon,” “Honeysuckle lighting bugs,” “Gosh almighty” (from the Ole Miss cheer; Hontzas is an Ole Mis grad) and “Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir, please, thank you.”
“I am Greek, but I am still a Mississippi boy,” Hontzas said.