To Life

A brave man turns his loss to everybody's gain.

What Thomas Soukakos is doing with his new Capitol Hill cafe/deli/market is unusual for Seattle and a real statement of faith in the universe. So this won't be an ordinary food review. In January 2002, Soukakos owned El Greco on Broadway. A few years before, he had met Carol and it was instant love, especially poignant for a man who'd gone into middle age without finding Her. But he found her (he was engaged to someone else at the time, but this was different) and she found him (she walked into his restaurant one day and applied to be a pastry chef), and they had a child named Alexander in 2001. That's when all hell broke loose. Carol became massively depressed following Alexander's birth—postpartum depression—and despite Soukakos' efforts to get her help, she committed suicide (a day after finally being given a prescription for Prozac), leaving Soukakos alone, shattered, and with a young baby to care for. (Carol Smith detailed his and Carol's story in an excellent 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.) Soon after, he sold El Greco to a customer because everything about the place "reminded me of her, everything," he says. "She created so many of the dishes there." He took the next year off from work and raised his son and slowly went about putting together Vios—it's not Greek just for "life" but "my everything," "my soul," which is very good news for Capitol Hill, as it could use a little after losing Cassis last month. in a former market at the corner of 19th Avenue East and Aloha Street, Soukakos, along with help from many friends, has created a truly unique dining space. It's more community center than a typical American restaurant, somewhat along the lines of old-fashioned European markets. There are long Russian pine tables, intended to compel customers to dine together even if they don't know one another. There is a deli case filled with hummus and pastries and Greek cheeses. Across the room are bottles of wine, not a one over $14; the idea being that people will actually have an affordable bottle of wine with their meal. Bon chance finding a bottle at that price in most cafes in town. Aside from Soukakos, the determined man with the sad eyes working behind the counter, Vios features a children's play area—don't think Chuck E. Cheese's—and baskets filled with organic produce (plum tomatoes and citrus, for example) and breads from Tall Grass Bakery (which typically only sells to the trade). On the walls are black-and-white photos of gleeful children, including one of Alexander. The trouble with many Greek restaurants in this country is that they are awful—greasy moussaka, chalky feta cheese. I still have horrific memories of my college years in Salt Lake City and the city's collection of lousy Greek cafes. Soukakos' cafe isn't like the cafes of my nightmares—Greek is more its central emotional core than its culinary road map, and the execution of dishes is way above cafe norms. The focus here is on sandwiches, and after a few visits, my semiprofessional opinion is that they are well worth driving over the hump of Capitol Hill to the sleepy neighborhood on East 19th, now home to three of the city's best eateries (Monsoon, Kingfish, and Vios). I had a succulent Maltese hobza ($7.50)—seared tuna belly (the best tuna meat) with tomatoes, capers, and mint. And I had a fennel-braised pork sandwich ($6.75), subtle and overpowering at once; if you have a thing for pork, this is your dream sandwich. There is a lamb burger—proving Vios' Grecian roots—and a roasted eggplant sandwich as well. Every item on the short menu promises well and delivers on its promise. Overall, not only is this an interesting cafe/deli/market, it's a statement by a man who refuses to give up on a life that could've gone straight down the sewer pipe. But then Soukakos comes from Sparta, the most hard-assed region of Greece. In Greek legend, babies who cried were tossed from cliffs into the sea. At Vios, kids are integral to the place's mood and neighborhoody hubbub where strangers actually talk to one another and Seattle, for a moment at least, doesn't seem quite so chilly. It'll get even warmer when Soukakos adds a dinner menu later this month and will stay open until 8:30 p.m. Vios, 903 19th Ave. E., 206-329-3236, CAPITOL HILL. 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Sat.

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