For whatever reason, Caroline’s by the Bay and food have not mixed.
Kyriakos Georgiou wants to change that perception for the Somers Point institution. And if a recent meal is any indication, he will achieve that lofty goal.
Georgiou’s The Local’s Spot is exactly what Caroline’s has needed for a long time: an unpretentious chef who knows how to make the masses happy with great bar food, while throwing in some culinary surprises.
Caroline’s always had an amazing view. It finally has great food to match. It’s pretty hard to beat enjoying a burger or a pile of nachos and a cold beer while taking in that bay view. Finally, Caroline’s can say it has that.
After working up and down the East Coast in amazing restaurants (see sidebar), including opening the new Hard Rock Café in Atlantic City as executive chef, Georgiou decided to finally open his own place.
“I grew up around restaurants,” the chef says. “My father had one. My aunt and uncle had restaurants. I am 36 and just thought it was time to go out and do it. The corporate world just wasn’t for me.”
After looking at locations including the former Friendly’s in Northfield and JJ’s Diner in Pleasantville — which will soon move to Egg Harbor Township at the former circle in the former Ref’s location — Georgiou heard about availability at Caroline’s.
“When I saw the place, I knew I could make it work,” he says. “I literally ran over there when I was told it was available. I knew I had to go with the environment and create outstanding bar food with my twists. You can’t open a Greek restaurant in the center of Chinatown, so I knew what I had to do. When they first talked to me they said, ‘Oh, let’s see. We have a lot of people interested.’ But after they saw my resume, they wanted me to meet the family and bring me on board immediately.”
The Local’s Spot opened in November, and Georgiou has been wowing diners since, surprising many who may have written off Caroline’s as a place to get great food a long time ago.
“I knew it had a bad reputation, but I knew I could turn it around,” he says. “It helps that I grew up in Somers Point and know the area and know what people want here. You can get wings and cheesesteaks anywhere, but I think the little twists I put on things make those staple foods special.”
For starters, Georgiou’s wings ($12), available in an array of sauces, are as good as any in Somers Point, a lofty statement considering Charlie’s and DiOrio’s have ruled the roost there for so long. But do yourself a favor and try something different: Korean pig wings ($12) mini tender pork shanks tossed in a sweet and spicy Gochujang sauce that is one of Georgiou’s signature items.
“I used to see the big shanks all of the time — they are pretty common — but then I went to a food show and saw these tiny ones that are wing size,” Georgiou says. “I was also introduced to gochujang sauce around the same time and just thought they would go great together, and I was right. They are probably my No. 1 seller. It goes to show you that people will try different things.”
The Local’s Spot’s other appetizers include everything from fried mozzarella ($10) to homemade quesadillas ($8) to bang bang shrimp ($12) to IPA-battered onion rings ($9) to awesome nachos ($9) with fresh corn tortillas, a homemade queso, beans, pico de gallo, olives, green onions and a scrumptious cilantro crema.
“I know Caroline’s gets insanely busy in the summer, so I wanted to create a menu that has quality but doesn’t take so long to execute,” Georgiou says. “So there’s homemade queso on the nachos instead of cheese that you have to put in an oven or broiler to melt. I have done the whole 5-star dining thing, and I wanted this place to operate so you don’t need five pans to create one dish.”
Years ago, La Fontana — the last great restaurant Caroline’s once leased to — installed an amazing brick oven, so Georgiou is taking advantage with an array of flatbread pizzas, including the San Gennaro ($11) with sweet Italian sausage, peppers, onions, mozzarella and marinara; the South West ($12) with grilled chicken, mozzarella, pico, avocado, green onions and spicy aioli; the buffalo chicken and more.
“The people before us did regular roll-out pizzas,” Georgiou explains, “but I didn’t want to do that. There are 20 other pizza places in Somers Point, so I wanted to be different and offer flatbread. Plus, I want to create a nice environment for people to eat in and didn’t think someone tossing flour around in the dining room was the way to go. So I am using flatbreads from Demascus Bakery in Brooklyn, which has been around for like 100 years. It’s a very high-quality product, and then I use all high-quality ingredients for the toppings.”
Georgiou gets creative on the “handheld” front. Whether it’s the Latin Bird ($11) a turkey burger with pepper Jack cheese, fried avocado and pico, or The Whiz Wit ($10), a Philly-style cheesesteak with choice of cheese on a Formica soft Philly-style roll, you can’t go wrong.
All burgers are a half-pound of custom-blend meat available in a variety of styles, including the Jersey Burger ($12) with Taylor pork roll, American cheese, mustard aioli and a sunnyside egg; and The Brooklyn ($11) with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss and brown mustard.
A few entrees are available for those looking for a bigger meal, including Georgiou’s awesome chicken parm ($19), a $22 12-ounce New York strip with creamy mashed potatoes and cedar-wrapped salmon ($22) with a honey-bourbon glaze and two sides.
“The salmon does really well,” says Georgiou, adding that he will offer more seafood entrees and dishes in the summer. “It’s the Jersey Shore, so seafood always works, and the way I prepare it with the cedar paper is just something different you won’t get anywhere else.”
Georgiou also offers homemade soups, fresh salads, an array of awesome desserts (try the peanut butter bomb) and even some Greek surprises once in a while.
“I take my mom’s influences and make baklava and other things,” he says. “I am actually starting a gyri special today because I made tzatziki sauce yesterday. The whole idea of The Local’s Spot is that it is their place. I go out and speak to every customer and take notes and get input. I cater to my customers to make sure this is the restaurant they always wanted.”
Georgiou’s path to The Local’s Spot
Resumes don’t get much better than Kyriakos Georgiou’s. After the South Jersey native graduated at the top of his class at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, his path to restaurateur seemed like his destiny.
He has worked up and down the East Coast from Atlantic City to Philadelphia to New York to Miami, cooking in some of the best restaurants and cooking for some of the most famous people on the planet.
While not listing everywhere the chef worked, his time at American Cut with Iron Chef Marc Forgione at the former Revel in Atlantic City was an amazing opportunity. Forgione’s partner, New York-based LDV Hospitality, took a liking to Georgiou, eventually bringing him to Miami to open Dolce there.
But Georgiou always wanted to work in the culinary capital of the world: New York, and he certainly made his mark there, working for Aramark for the New York Mets, where he served as a chef in the suites. In the offseason, Georgiou was sent to Washington, D.C., where he would cook for the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards, and even for the Baltimore Ravens on Sundays because of D.C.’s close proximity.
“It was such a cool experience to be part of that and see how the inner workings of those sports teams operated,” Georgiou says. “The recipes there weren’t by the ounce or the pound. They were by the case! It was eye opening.”
But money beckoned, and Georgiou decided to work as a chef at the acclaimed The View, the rotating restaurant inside the famed Marriott Marquis on Times Square in Manhattan.
“I was there for two years, and as awesome as it was, I had no life,” he says with a laugh.
The chef then moved to work for Flik Hospitality, a subsidiary of the Compass Group, that sent him to Rockefeller Center where he would work at 30 Rock, yes NBC! In particular, Georgiou worked for “Saturday Night Live,” cooking for cast members (“Keenan Thompson was particularly cool!”) and guest stars, including Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z.
The Compass Group eventually moved Georgiou to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he would cook in the high-end Concorde Lounge for British Airways, meeting and cooking for Will Smith, Madonna and Liam Neeson.
“(Liam) actually asked me to sit down and talk to him for a while,” Georgiou says. “That was the place where people didn’t blink spending $20,000 for a flight.”
After being laid off in a restructuring, Georgiou decided to come back home as executive chef of the new Hard Rock Café in Atlantic City.
“It was a great experience opening the new Hard Rock,” Georgiou says. “And it got me back home.”