Hands-on owner works to ensure customers are satisfied
By Joshua Maloni
When I was younger, my parents would say my sister ate like a bird.
Me? I just ate the bird.
Preferably inside another, larger animal. Oh, and covered in bacon.
A scrawny person at the time, I was told I had a peg leg. Corpulent relatives would look on with awe (and perhaps a few cuss words) as I cleaned plate after plate.
Suffice to say, I had a healthy appetite.
A few decades later, I still love to eat. I welcome extra portions and second (third, fourth) helpings.
And yet, try as I may, I can't finish the Syros steak and eggs in one sitting.
It usually takes two meals - though last week I squeezed out a third from the precisely cooked, Goliath-sized steak that owner Bechara Cobti cooked for me.
More on that in moment.
Joining the steak were fluffy scrambled eggs and two big pieces of toasted DiCamillo Bakery Italian bread.
Unlike what you'd find at an à la carte eatery, the dish at Syros came with a mound of home fries. The potatoes were seasoned right, and grilled crispy on the outside.
In fact, Cobti gives out home fries like Oprah used to gift cars. Potatoes come with the regular egg dishes, as well as the souvlaki, the saganaki and the omelets.
I'm pretty sure water comes with a side of home fries.
It's the same with lunch. Cobti offers so many french fries, one could build a log cabin out of the hot, crunchy spuds.
I know. I've tried. Kept eating the living room. Epic fail.
That Cobti cooked for me was nothing special or out of the ordinary. He's often in the kitchen whizzing up eggs, making sure the bacon is just right, juggling orders of toast (aptly timed with the proteins), throwing chocolate chips into perfectly golden-brown pancakes and artfully placing French toast slices on large, decorated white dishes.
When asked to weigh in on Cobti, Syros chef Nick Damelates laughed and said, "He's good. He's an excellent cook. Especially behind the line. He definitely knows what he's doing, which is a lot of help."
"Breakfast - that's my strength," Cobti said.
Cobti, 56, cooked for himself and roommates while at the University at Buffalo in the mid-1980s. Though he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, he and his wife, Gina, opened a restaurant in Amherst in 1989.
"I knew my restaurant skill is good," he said. "I like to cook. I like to eat. And I thought I could make money in it. ... I knew I could make it."
Though he didn't initially work in the kitchen when he took over Syros in 2010, Cobti soon found himself back in front of the grill.
"When I first bought the place, the first year I didn't go in the kitchen much," he said. "They had enough people; no room for me. ... They thought I didn't know how to cook."
Cobti eventually worked his way back in, eyeing areas he could improve upon.
"I don't know why I think I'm the only one (who) can do better eggs," he said. "I think I'm a control freak a little bit with it. That's why. (Laughs) Especially eggs. I cooked a lot of eggs in my life."
"I enjoy it," he added. "I think it's in the DNA."
Cobti is a meat master. He's hands-on when purchasing fresh beef each week; he hand-cuts his own steaks, and cooks them to order.
He buys choice beef and "I cut it against the grain," Cobti said. "I trim it. And then for souvlaki ... there is a layer in between the meat. Silver skin. I separate them and I take them off."
"If we're serving 6 ounces, when I cut it ... I've always got to go more, to make sure I'm giving the minimum of what I said," Cobti said. "Like burger. If I said third-pounder, when I cut it, it's going to be minimum third-pounder. Actually between 6 and 7 ounces. Never third-pound 5.333."
"Roast beef, too. We get the good stuff," Cobti added. "Not the huge one. I like certain size. Twelve pounds. That's it. I cook two instead of one, so we finish it faster. I don't want it to sit."
Syros patrons were quick to offer words of praise.
Youngstown entrepreneur Aaron Dey said, "Being off Center Street you would think that Syros has to try even harder to pull people into their eatery. They don't. They do it the old-fashioned way with a wide selection of consistently good food and service, making it a favorite for area residents and ... visitors, who are lucky enough to hear about it from those that have been. You get what you pay for each and every time."
Business consultant Stacey Sheehan said, "It's got to be their tzatziki! No question! I eat it on everything, but it's especially good with their fries or a warm pita. Also, it's a great place to go with young kids. There is plenty of room for a stroller and they have never given us 'the stink eye' when the odd hashbrown goes rogue or (son) Liam spills his chocolate milk."
Lewiston tech maven Matthieu Villeneuve said, "They have some of the best fries around. Love them. ... Having three kids, I've relied on them to make everyone happy for years."
Community champion Cindy Duke exclaimed, "Their avgolemono soup! Whenever someone in my family is feeling under the weather, I head straight there for a quart to go! It fixes everything!"
Village of Lewiston Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said, "Love Syros; eat there every Tuesday for breakfast during the non-golf season. Linda is the greatest waitress going. The breakfast is awesome. ... Also love their chicken souvlaki salad. When I go for lunch or dinner, I have to have it. Yum yum."
Town of Lewiston Councilman Bill Geiben said, "Full delicious menu, family-friendly with excellent service."
Cobti's son, Eli, said, "It's about consistency and utilizing everyone to the best of their ability. ... You hear all the great things about the old Clark's Burger House, and we just want to return it to those type of glory days."
Though customers agreed on the food, there was one point of contention.
Is it SEA-ros or SIGH-ros?
When the former Clark's Burger House reopened, went through various changes and ultimately was sold, a former owner named the restaurant "Syros" after the Greek island on the Aegean Sea.
"It's SEA-ros, not SIGH-ros," Cobti said.
He verified that with a woman visiting Lewiston, who, believe it or not, was actually from the island (and submitted some of the art now seen inside Syros).
Even if the opposite was true, Cobti said, with a chuckle, "SIGH-ros sounds like SIGH-los," which is too similar to The Silo, Lewiston's warm-weather waterfront favorite.
Syros Family Restaurant is open seven days a week - and serves breakfast all day - at 869 Cayuga St., Lewiston. For more information, call 754-1900 or visit www.syrosrestaurant.com.
Bechara Cobti proudly displays Syros' famous steak and eggs. The dish is normally $10.49, but many mornings it's offered at a special price.