Brendan Pelley had been thinking about opening his own restaurant for years. But the jump from executive chef of a farm-to-table charcuterie-focused restaurant in the ’burbs (Zebra’s Bistro in Medfield) to chef/owner of a modern Greek restaurant in the city meant putting everything at financial risk. Enter Boston Nightlife Ventures’ Wink & Nod in the South End, where Pelley will run his Pelekasis pop-up for at least six months starting Jan. 5.
“All of the routes to restaurant ownership are terrifying. So I was looking for the softest route to get my project out there, generate some interest, create a little buzz and cook good food in the city,” Pelley says. “I’m friends with Josh Lewin, who was here with Bread & Salt. I reached out to him to see if he knew what the deal here was. He put me in touch with BNV, and I did a tasting and presented the concept.”
Following Whisk, Bread & Salt and the current tenant, Patrick Enage’s Akinto, Pelekasis will be the fourth pop-up at Wink & Nod, which maintains its cocktail program and swank interiors while new chefs test out their fare. For inspiration, Pelley is drawing on a lifetime of eating Greek food (his grandfather changed the family name from Pelekasis to Pelley), as well as a fall trek to Greece. “What was interesting to me was that when I was eating in the countryside tavernas, the food was more similar to rustic French and Italian food than what most of us think of as Greek-American food,” Pelley says. “It was a lot of slow-braised dishes and stews and casseroles. I saw lots of farmstead cheeses and curing meats.”
Pelley’s menu is split into small, medium and large plates, emulating the shareable format that’s been successful for Akinto. Highlights include the wild boar keftedes, a riff on classic Greek meatballs served with yogurt, chili-spiked honey and coriander, as well as dolmades stuffed with rice, golden raisins, pine nuts and a slab of foie gras. Pelley is using his mom’s recipe for his spanakopita: nearly 100 layers of phyllo, feta and spinach, cut into slices and seared in butter. There will also be a slow-roasted leg of lamb for four to six people, served bone-in and carved tableside. “As long as it tastes amazing and it’s some semblance of Greek, then I’m happy,” Pelley says.
The Greek influence will seep into cocktails featuring ouzo, tsipouro and metaxa, and the plan is to add some Mediterranean wines to the list. But Wink & Nod won’t stray far from what customers have come to expect from the bar. Pelley’s challenge is living up to what they’ve come to expect from previous pop-ups. “It’s tough coming in with a brand-new concept. We don’t want to piss anyone off. People love [Enage’s] food,” he says. “But this is a great concept.”
Pelekasis at Wink & Nod 3 Appleton St., Boston (617-482-0117) pelekasisboston.com