Restaurateur Q and A: Michael Psilakis
Michael Psilakis of Kefi, Mia Dona, Anthos and Miami’s Eos, opened Gus & Gabriel on the Upper West Side on July 1. We spoke to him about his new place, which specializes in classic comfort foods, a departure from the Greek cuisine that’s made him famous.Where did the name come from?
My dad was Gus and my son is Gabriel. What was the vision?
All my restaurants start with a thesis — this was feeding your inner child and now it’s embracing your inner child. It’s about taking American pub food and making it all from scratch. Making our own hot dogs, sauerkraut and relish — everything on the hot dog and everything else is homemade. If there’s a pickled something on the plate it’s homemade. That was the benchmark for us, we didn’t want to do anything that was processed.
What’s your favorite dish?
I really love the homemade beef hot dog. Either Chicago style with pickles, onions and peppers, or with chili and cheese. What’s the drink selection like?
There are 50 beers and 80 whiskeys. The bar is based mostly on brown spirits, a lot of whiskey. We have 10 tap beers (artisanal stuff) plus 40 cans and bottles. We offer shot, flask and bottle options (you can use the bottle next time). How about the atmosphere? What was the vision behind that?
We started with stain-glass light fixture you’d find at an old-school pubs and then went from there. It’s a little more sophisticated than what you’d find at a pub.
Does it have a Greek feel? How is it different than your other places?It’s challenging. You’re putting yourself out there against other chefs who have dedicated their lives to creating American food, which I haven’t. But the idea came about cooking with my son who is 3. For me, food has always been an expression of an emotional attachment, my biggest goal would be to take someone on a journey to a place where they can reminisce. The hope is that you’re coming in to a restauarant and it’ll bring you to a time where it’s more carefree.
It’s a very big deviation for me. Looking back at all the restaurant I’ve opened, this one really stretches what I’ve known for.
Is it family friendly as a result?
We have a children’s menu. The thing about the Upper West Side is that it’s suburbia in the city. It’s a place that evolves as the night goes on. At 5, 7, 9 there are different demographics. We’re setting up different lighting formats and different playlists. What are the prices like?
The average check is around $25. The portion sizes are big and the food has a lot of flavor. If you’re not going to drink, you could come and leave for a very reasonable price. Entrees are mostly $10.95-$14.95. What was it like opening a new restaurant in the recession?
I can’t lie and say it wasn’t something that came into my mind. After Kefi, I fumbled around with what I would come up with. It got shelved for almost eight months. Prices are obviously value driven. I want people to be able to come to the restaurant once a week. It’s a neighborhood place. Trying to focus on neighborhood. Hope is that it’s somewhere they can call their own. It’s a place that feels like home. Gus & Gabriel, 222 W. 79th St, 212-362-7470