- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - “Let me give you a little history on the onion soup.” That’s Manoli Kardoulias, chef-owner of Acropolis Cuisine. He purchased the Metairie restaurant in 2015 but operates it like an heirloom.

The onion soup came with the place. It originated with George Korominas, Acropolis’ first owner. He started running it as a daily special when he opened the restaurant, in 2001. Teddy Vrettos continued the practice after purchasing Acropolis from Korominas in the late 2000s.

After Kardoulias bought the place from Vrettos, he said, “I’d get calls every day from customers, ‘Do you have the soup?’ I was like, if everyone wants it so badly, we’ll put it on the regular menu.”

That wasn’t as easy as it sounds. “6 onion” is the soup’s official name as well as a statement of fact. “We really do use six different onions,” Kardoulias said. They are white, yellow, red and green onions, along with shallots and leeks, which gives the soup its green color.

“It takes so much time to chop all the onions up,” Kardoulias said. “It takes eight hours to cook. It’s a very long process.”

Unlike traditional French onion soup, perhaps the most familiar onion soup in the West, which leans heavily on beef stock, sherry and melted Gruyère, Acropolis’ soup is mainly about onions. That, at least, is up until the point at which it is ordered, when the soup, its vegetable stock touched with a bit of cream, is ladled into a bowl and covered with a lid of puff pastry.

The pastry makes the soup impossible to forget. The pastry sometimes rises high, like a soufflé. Other times it droops dramatically over the bowl’s edge, like the thatched roof of a British country inn. It is always flaky and hot to the touch. A person who sees the soup for the first time may be surprised that it is in fact a soup and not a fancy pot pie, or vol-au-vent filled with escargots.

“Put the soup in front of him,” a customer instructed Rebecca Crossland, an Acropolis waitress, last Friday, pointing to a companion. “He’s got to try it.”

Crossland worked for Acropolis’ two previous owners, whom she respectively described as “Greek” and “very Greek.” Kardoulias, for his part, has lived in New Orleans for all of his 55 years but still considers himself “really very Greek.”

His wife Rhonda waits tables at Acropolis. “I imported her from Indiana,” Kardoulias said. “She’s a foreigner.”

His father Nicholas came to the United States as a young man from the Greek port city of Piraeus. Nicholas met Despina, his Greek-American wife, in New Orleans.

“Three days later they were married,” Kardoulias said. “That marriage lasted 60 years, until he died last New Year’s Eve.”

One of Acropolis’ frequent specials, a stuffed eggplant dish, is named after Nicholas. He learned to cook aboard Merchant Marine ships and passed the skill along to his son. Kardoulias worked as a hotel chef, and for his uncle at the old Little Greek restaurant on Metairie Road, before buying Acropolis.

During lunch on a recent Saturday, a regular customer commented on the haircut of Nick, Rhonda and Manoli’s son, who is learning the ropes in Acropolis’ kitchen. “Your grandmother was in here just the other day,” the customer told Nick. “She sat over there, with three friends.”

Acropolis customers have memories. (“Tell him to make it like he did yesterday,” one instructed his waitress earlier this month.) It’s why Kardoulias was careful not to change the menu much after purchasing the restaurant. “I knew the customers liked the place,” he said.

Greek staples like moussaka, feta-spinach pie and gyro sandwiches remain among Acropolis’ best-sellers. The most noticeable changes of the Kardoulias era so far include a sprucing up of the small dining room (“You can see I fixed up the bar to look like a taverna”), an expansion of the daily specials and an embrace of what Kardoulias calls “my philosophy of guest satisfaction.”

“If I have a customer who can’t get out of the house, because they’re elderly or whatever, we’ll bring the food to them,” he explained.

Kardoulias‘ broadens his restaurant’s offerings with the daily specials. They can reach as many as 12, ranging from eggplant soup and seafood-stuffed flounder to a hamburger made with beef tenderloin trimmings and topped with kasseri cheese - the same he uses for saganaki.

“We’re Greek but not all Greek,” Kardoulias said of Acropolis.

The same could be said of the signature onion soup, which resembles some Greek soups, though Kardoulias admits he’s never seen another served under puff pastry.

Similarly, Kardoulias himself is Greekish as much as he’s Greek. When asked about his name, he said, “In English it’s really Emmanuel. But since I’m here in a Greek restaurant, I go by Manoli.”

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