Dunwoodians hungering for authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine do not have to venture far to get some. Just minutes from the heart of the city is a little known oasis of tasty ethnic cuisine called Maximo’s.
Maximo’s is full of surprises for the first-time visitor. Located in a tiny shopping center on the eastern end of the city, next to the now-defunct Supremo’s grocery market, its location gives no hint of the delights inside.
Upon entering, a visitor finds not the funky decor typical of many metro-area ethnic restaurants but instead a spacious and light-filled dining room with artwork on the walls and white tablecloths on the tables.
Aficionados of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food should all find something to like at Maximo’s because the cuisine covers the full range from Persian to Greek, with even a small selection of Italian and Portuguese.
The portions are more than ample – enough for most diners to ask for a carryout box – and priced moderately.
Celebrating their restaurant’s tenth anniversary this year, owner Joe Pereira and his son Dan, the chef, have seen their business flourish mainly through word-of-mouth.
“Most of our customers are regulars. At dinner, they come mainly from nearby Dunwoody neighborhoods,” said Dan. “At lunch, we serve a lot of businesspeople who work nearby.”
How Pereira, a textile engineer from Portugal, and his son, born and raised in the U.S., came to be owners of an authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant is an example of finding an unexpected opportunity and making the best of it.
After working for textile firms in Massachusetts for most of his career, Pereira came to Atlanta with his family for a new job. His son Dan, who had worked in restaurants while in college, met and fell in love with the daughter of a Dunwoody Iranian who had just started a local Mediterranean restaurant.
It soon became known that the girl’s father wanted to move on. Since Pereira was looking for an entrepreneurial venture that would keep him in Atlanta and his son wanted a stable career so he could propose marriage to the daughter, the deal was made – and father and son embarked on an adventure neither had expected.
“My father is a wonderful man,” said Dan. “He trusted me at age 25 to take on something he knew nothing about. I didn’t want to fail him.”
Dan apprenticed with the restaurant’s founder for a year, during which time he and his father learned everything they could about the restaurant. Pereira mastered the business side of it, and Dan mastered the cooking. Years of 60-hour workweeks led them to where they are now – with a steady stream of loyal customers.
The restaurant’s most popular dishes are its various gyros (correctly pronounced “YEER-ohs”).
“Seventy percent of what we serve is gyro-related,” said Dan. “We use the highest quality meat we can buy in our gyros, which are 80 percent lamb and 20 percent beef, and only the freshest ingredients.”
One of the most popular casual foods in Greece, the gyro is traditionally made of minced lamb and beef, pressed into a large conical shape and then cooked on a rotisserie.
Gyros are served with tzatziki sauce, a yogurt-based sauce made with cucumber, garlic and various herbs and spices. Dan “tweaked” the traditional Greek and Turkish tzatziki recipe. His customers like it so much it’s available even as a separate item on the menu.
“Our gyros are so popular we’re sometimes known as a Greek restaurant,” said Dan. “But we offer a lot more.”
Another very popular menu item at Maximo’s is Persian – mirza ghasemi, an eggplant dip made with fresh garlic, tomatoes and eggs and served with pita. Dan “tweaked” this traditional recipe too.
“Iranians add cinnamon to their beef stews, so I added a bit to our mirza,” he said. The result is a combination of flavors that is both subtle and exotic.
Other popular traditional menu items are beef souvlaki, a light and creamy hummus and a variety of kabobs including beef, lamb, chicken, Cornish hen and kubideh (ground beef) – all of which are served with delicate Basmati rice, Greek salad, pita and tomatoes.
Pereira and son both believe their success is due as much to the personal attention they give their customers as to their food. Dan personally visits tables and calls customers by name.
“We try to give our customers the best care,” said Dan. “We’re like a family.”
Dan refuses to run a “short shift.” If someone calls in sick, he calls his brother Stephen, a banker, to come in and help. Sometimes even his mother helps.
In recognition of their loyal customers, Maximo’s offers a Customer Loyalty Program, in which diners quickly amass points and exchange them for menu discounts.
To celebrate their restaurant’s 10th anniversary, father and son are planning a series of menu specials throughout the month of April and invite customers to check in regularly throughout the month
Maximo’s is located at 4947 Winters Chapel Road North in the Village Place Shopping Center at the intersection of Peeler and Winters Chapel roads. Reservations and walk-ins are both welcome. Takeout and catering are also available.
Hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For information, call 770-390-9007.