Cover photo: Alex Eaton is owner/culinary director at Aplós and Rashanna Newsome is the executive chef.
A cool whiff of refreshment pulls me right through the door of Aplós, the new fast/fine eatery from acclaimed Jackson chef, Alex Eaton. That’s just the vibe. The menu follows suit, with a touch both thoughtful and breezy.
This charmer in the courtyard at Highland Village brings a Mediterranean slant to the spot. Here, Eaton distills quality ingredients, world travels and fine flavors to their essence for simplicity that sings. Counter service, the fresh and casual feel, a limited but enticing bar and a menu that intrigues rather than overwhelms all work in harmony.
Lebanese, Greek and Italian cuisines flavor the menu. Hummus and stuffed grape leaves, wraps and Greek salad, plus a half dozen pizza selections cruise past those influences with a tasty nod and a friendly wave.
“Once you get your own place, you really start finding your identity and what your passions are,” says Eaton, who is also executive chef/owner at The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood.
“Lighter Mediterranean cuisine is what I like to eat, and what I felt like was missing” in Jackson’s LeFleur East district. That fare hits close to home for Eaton, whose family is half Lebanese. Behind the counter, a huge photo of a young boxer depicts his Lebanese grandfather Lawrence Iupe, who was first generation American.
Aplós is Eaton’s outlet to that beloved culture. A summer 2017 trip to Lebanon with his friend Arthur Jones, from the Cedars of Lebanon Club started by their grandfathers, solidified that authenticity and fed his study of chicken shawarma, grape leaves and hummus.
Other travel tapped the talents of those who’ve blazed a similar trail in San Francisco and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “These guys are at the forefront of millennial-driven, technological food,” he says of the partners behind Souvla, a group of fast/fine Greek restaurants in San Francisco. “People are getting to where they want it fast, they want it quick, they want to use computers to get it. They want to sit down, be fed, get out of here, and take pictures of it.”
He spent a few days in Philly at Israeli chef Michael Solomonov’s restaurants, “THE guy when it comes to hummus.”
He also studied New Orleans chef Alon Shaya’s hummus videos. Easy ingredients, but tough to make consistently, Eaton says of the popular spread.
At Aplós, all that comes together. Eaton is owner and culinary director for Aplós and Rashanna Newsome is the executive chef. Also onboard are Eaton’s Manship business partner Steven O’Neill, bar/beverage director, and Wilson Hood, who’s had success with similar small restaurants, Eaton says.
Newsome had worked for Eaton at The Manship. Her first intro to Mediterranean cuisine came in her third semester at Washburne Culinary Institute in Chicago. “That’s when I fell in love with it. I love citrus. I love garlic. And, I love eating healthy. And, all of that ties in with Mediterranean cuisine.”
On the menu, shawarma-style pulled chicken, souvlaki-style pork or leg of lamb and a vegan option of falafal are available on salads or in wraps. The Aplós is the eatery’s take on classic Greek salad, with topping options that also include shrimp.
The mezza list is a tempting lineup of small plates — perfect for a quick bite, shopping break or anytime snack. Falafal, deep-fried balls of ground garbanzo beans, contrast a crunchy outside with fluffy innards tinged green from the abundance of fresh herbs. Marinated cabbage adds a pleasant counter tang. Hummus is garnished with schug (a puree of jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, parsley and lemon juice) for a tasty accent that’s herby with a hint of heat. Stuffed grape leaves, Lebanese cheese rolls and pita mozzarella round out the selection.
On the side, fried cauliflower, Greek fries, a smaller Greek salad or a homemade soup of the day (chicken stock- or tomato-based) fit the bill. “Everything needs to be super-light, fresh and healthy,” Eaton says. “Clean eating.”
The sipping side offers Italian and Greek wines and beers. Frozé (frozen rosé) and a Turkish Mule (with pomegranate to tart it up) are among a handful of specialty drinks that beckon. Frozen Greek yogurt satisfies the sweet tooth. A kids menu quiets the small set. With two young children, Eaton’s aims include a restaurant that’s kid-friendly and affordable.
Aplós, Greek for “simple, easily understood,” is a place that’s easy to do fast and tempting to make last.
As for me, a mezza sampler, bottle of Mythos Greek beer and the slow, hypnotic turn of chickens in the rotisserie would be a leisurely way to while away an afternoon.