Living Out Loud
March 30th, 2024

Ode to Zorba's

At the end of the street where I've lived for thirty years stands an unassuming blue building housing Zorba's Gyro on a Spit, a restaurant I've frequented for even longer. Tommy Frangakis emigrated from Greece in 1958 and settled in Fayetteville in 1961. He established Zorba's Gyro in 1974, and it has remained a family affair ever since. His son John has assisted at Zorba's for most of his life and has been a permanent fixture since 1996. Greeks own numerous eateries in our mid-sized southern town, including Italian and soul food establishments.

Unlike diners open 24/7, Zorba's opens at 6 am for breakfast and serves three meals on most days, except Sundays when it closes at 2 pm after the last of the post-church crowd has dined. My wife and I are regulars there most weekends, and when she travels for business, I often rely on Zorba's for meals. I take pride in not needing a menu, and it's gratifying when a familiar waitress attempts to grab one, notices who is seated, and returns it to her station.

I've resided in this Army town for most of my life. We have a dish that originated in mess halls called S.O.S. (shit on a shingle), which consists of ground beef in milk gravy served over toast (or a biscuit if desired). I prefer mine with two fried eggs, covered in hot sauce, accompanied by hash browns and a generous mug of bottomless coffee. My wife usually opts for an omelet or scrambled eggs with grits, sometimes with bacon on the side. Since she abstains from wheat, I typically receive her side of toast or pancakes, depending on my appetite.

We've been bringing our grandchildren to Zorba's since they were infants. When they're with us, they request "Nana's pancakes" instead of me

. In fact, they refer to the restaurant as "The Pancakes." They construct miniature towers out of the half-and-half containers left on the tables in baskets. The waitresses bring their beverages in styrofoam cups with lids and straws and are understanding when even these precautions don't prevent spills. I've made it a tradition to photograph whoever joins me for breakfast, and I have albums filled with images of them throughout their lives, from their high chair days to high school, seated in Zorba's booths.

Upon my retirement, my generous colleagues organized a small party for me, and several thoughtfully presented me with Zorba's gift certificates, even though my workplace was located in a neighboring town over 30 miles from the restaurant. They had witnessed my frequent social media posts about Zorba's, which had become synonymous with my dining experiences.

When infrequent snowstorms hit our area, it seems that everything in town closes except Zorba's. I've made my way there on foot numerous times over the years, navigating snow-covered streets. On one occasion, while sharing breakfast with a group of regulars, a reporter from the local newspaper approached us to gather material for a story about early morning scenes at various establishments. He asked Tony, the owner, to identify some patrons he might interview, and Tony pointed to our table and the tables adjacent to us, all regulars. Zorba's embodies that kind of atmosphere. It's such an institution that I'm never surprised by who I encounter in the dining room. It could be the mayor, my doctor, or members of the local AA group. Everyone is welcome.

I hope Zorba's remains open for the duration of my life. I'll be delighted if John, the son, assumes ownership from his father when the time arrives. I'll continue to visit for $4.25 spaghetti night when my wife is away and indulge in their exceptional baklava, the best I've ever tasted. And yes, I'll request a refill on my coffee before departing. But, rest assured, I'll be back.