Frank Georgacopoulos, the 29-year-old chef at Greektown’s Meli Cafe, is a surgeon of breakfast. The former pre-med student mixes culinary imagination with a dash of science to stitch together airy fritatas and moist banana pancakes.
For him, even an egg is never just an egg. Before opening Meli, he and the cafe’s owners blind-cooked and taste-tested 10 different eggs, including standard, organic and cage-free versions, until they settled on Illinois producer Phil’s Cage-Free as the foundation for the restaurant.
Georgacopoulos, who also graduated from culinary school with honors, manned the kitchens at family-style dining spots in the Chicago suburbs before landing at Meli. He says, “I was the big fish in the little pond. Now I’m the small fish, and I’ll work my way up.”
But there’s no flopping like a fish in the Meli kitchen. As the place fills with plates on busy Sunday mornings, there’s a silent, precise dance between him and his cooks. Georgacopoulos refers to this harmony amid the rush as “vibration” and says, “I need a little bit of craziness, a little ruckus, or my day is not complete.”
Q. What do you wish you could change about the Chicago restaurant scene?
A. I wish that there were more places that offer the comfort and quality that we had as children. Nowadays, it’s fusion this, fusion that with platings that are 16 inches high. That’s all good, and we’ll do some interesting things at Meli, but we like to preserve the essence of a dish, and try to capture those moments where you were sitting and waiting for lunch from Mom. You won’t see us mixing wasabi with the feta.
Q. What would your last meal be?
A. Freshly baked bread, hot out of the oven, with kalamata olives, ripe tomatoes, olive oil and imported feta.
Q. Where do you eat before or after a shift?
A. Seeing as I get up at 3:30 a.m. for work, I usually prepare a bowl of oatmeal, with fresh fruit, and homemade granola at Meli to get me through the day.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss dish at your restaurant?
A. My “Cloud 9” crepes — a sinful combination of chocolate-infused crepes filled with fresh strawberries and sweetened mascarpone and garnished with fresh whipped vanilla cream, powdered sugar and drizzled chocolate.
Q. What should we know about your restaurant that we probably don’t?
A. We prepare all the marmalades from scratch along with our signature honey butter. We believe everything should be in its most natural state. You won’t find any pre-packaged items at your table.
Meli Cafe; 301 S. Halsted, Chicago (312) 454-0748