What Clem Cooks When He's Not at Paul's
The owner of Paul's restaurant dishes on a personal summertime favorite.
It’s not on the menu at his restaurant—indeed, the dish doesn’t even have a name—but it’s often on Clem Kaikis’ mind. And at least once a week, usually Wednesday, it's on his plate.
Kaikis, standing outside of Paul’s Restaurant, the classic American lunch room he has owned since 1980, was rattling off the recipe of a summer classic.
Like Cincinnati’s famed Skyline Diner “three-way”—an abomination of spaghetti befouled by chili and yellow cheese—the Kaikis Klassic is built upon a foundation of pasta. Unlike the Ohio staple, it looks as good as it tastes.
“I use either angel hair or penne pasta,” said Kaikis, who offers a menu anchored by potatoes, eggs and sausage at Paul's, along with touches such as Internet access.
Kaikis, 56, is a graduate of Patterson Senior High School and holds a business degree from Morgan State University. Six and seven days a week, he makes the 25-mile drive from his home in Kingsville to the Oregon Avenue restaurant he has owned since 1980.
Standing alongside the Hollywood Theater, Kaikis rattled off his nothing-to-it summer recipe, beginning with the straining of the pasta.
“I set that aside and fry some Vidalia onions in virgin olive oil,” he said. “While they caramelize, I put in chopped garlic and eggplant fingers.”
Slices of eggplant, about an index finger in length, like factory-processed squid you get at chain restaurants when what you really want is authentic calamari, the golden ovals and crispy tentacles that Kaikis knows well from Ikaros in his old stomping grounds of Greektown in East Baltimore.
“Then some zucchini and real tomatoes,” he said.
By real, he means off the vine, not canned or sauce—a great Eastern Shore tomato, perhaps, the kind that seem to exist more in memory than salads these days.
(To better understand the scarcity of blood-red tomatoes, consult Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, just published by McMeel of Riverside New Jersey.)
“Then I put in some more onion,” said Kaikis, whose parents both hail from the Greek island of Rhodes, met in the United States and were married at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Ponca Street.
(Back in Rhodes, an extraordinary pasta dish—astako makaronatha—is made from scratch with lobster, wine, tomato sauce and a touch of cinnamon. To see how Kaikis’ family ate in the old country, go to the Arbutus branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and request a copy of Food from Many Greek Kitchens, by Tessa Kiros.)
When all the goodies in the skillet are cooked—not raw, not mush, just enough—Kaikis lays single servings on top of the pasta.
“Top with a good grated cheese—delicious!” he said.
Sometimes, said Kaikis, when he’s feeling a little feisty, “I add banana peppers.”
And then he headed into work.