Nearly 16 years ago around Thanksgiving, longtime friends and Washington natives Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos, and chef Dimitri Moshovitis opened their first Cava Mezze in Rockville. Fast forward to the present, and they have four more full-service restaurants, plus a booming fast-casual empire with 155 shops and counting. On Monday, November 22, they’ll add another place to their portfolio: Melina, a splashy modern Greek restaurant, which joins sister dining room Julii in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development.
Moshovitis discovered Melina’s head chef on Instagram. He was scrolling when Aris Tsekouras’s Greek micro-bakery drew his attention—it’d been a pandemic side-gig for the chef, who previously worked at Vasili’s Kitchen in Gaithersburg’s Kentlands development and at fine-dining destinations around Greece. Moshovitis ordered some loaves, tasted them, and hired Tsekouras on the spot. “I fell in love—it reminded me of my childhood,” says Moshovitis, who’s a co-executive chef. “I’d never tasted anything else from this guy, but if something as simple as bread could bring me back to that place, I knew he was the right guy.”
Diners can start with housemade breads served with a variety of dips, spreads, and Greek olive oils, and finish a meal with treats like warm Greek doughnuts with herb-infused honey. When brunch launches in the coming weeks, look for a riff on Jerusalem bagels—a popular street snack in Greece—with whipped spread and trout roe.
The team took extensive trips to research their family roots in Greece, which informed the modern style of cooking at Melina. “You see how Greek cooking has evolved and modernized in a good way,” Moshovitis says. “Some purists may say Greek food is Greek food and you can’t touch it, but it can be hip and also keep its traditions.”
On Melina’s menu, that translates to a bounty of vegetable mezze—since vegetables are the hippest these days—often done up in whimsical ways. Roasted beets are delivered in a pot with yogurt and pickled blackberries, then covered in a “soil” of smoked walnuts and carob. Fried potatoes and eggs—a favorite childhood snack in Greece—is reimagined with crispy fingerlings, tzatziki, feta cream, and cured egg yolk.
That’s not to say meat and seafood don’t find their way to the table. Diners can dig into hearty entrees like a slow-roasted lamb neck in parchment served with homemade sourdough pita, herb-onion salad, crispy potatoes, and mint tzatziki (you can fashion little sandwiches). Or shrimp saganaki reimagined as a creamy tomato-feta pasta. To match: Greek wines and cocktails that take cues from the kitchen, such as Greek gin mixed with an herbal mountain tea and herb-infused honey syrup.
You may know the team as “the Cava guys,” but Melina pays homage to the women in their lives. The airy 80-seat restaurant is named after Moshovitis’s 12-year old daughter. Blue tiling, white cushions, lush plantings, and a Koroneiki olive tree in the center of the restaurant are meant to conjure a more feminine aesthetic than the dark woods and moody lighting of Cava Mezze. Come spring, large sliding windows will create an indoor/outdoor feel with a huge patio and bar that’s half inside, half al fresco.
“When you look at myself, Ted, and Ike, our moms were so important,” says Moshovitis, who grew up near Gaithersburg. “The path we took was because of that delicious food and family. We want to celebrate that.”
Melina. 905 Rose Ave., North Bethesda (at Pike & Rose)