Made fresh with love: Rome2Greece brings European cuisine to the South
WRITTEN BY STEPHANIE L. ROBERTSON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
Gurcan “John” Yenigun artfully layers black olives over a bed of lettuce, onions and cucumbers. When satisfied with his work, he sprinkles the salad with feta cheese. It’s the perfect side to Rome2Greece’s signature combo, the Beef and Lamb Gyro on Pita Bread.
He presents a diner with this delicious palette of color, texture and aroma. Creamy white Tzatziki sauce adds zest to the succulent meat. Wedges of soft pita bread cushion a side of rice, stuffed grape leaves and the ultra-fresh salad.
It’s a taste of Europe right here in Madison.
It’s no wonder the food is so scrumptious. Yenigun has more than 15 years of experience cooking in some of Europe’s finest restaurants.
Rome2Greece is the real deal. True, the restaurant is tucked away on a row of Hughes Road businesses near Highway 72 in Madison, but the food is authentic European and Mediterranean.
Yenigun ought to know. He is originally from Istanbul, Turkey. His mother is Bulgarian, and his father is Greek. “We cover the whole Mediterranean Coast – Bulgaria, Greece and Istanbul,” Yenigun joked.
As to the Madison restaurant, “there is really nothing like this,” said Yenigun. “It’s a very unique café. We’re not just a gyro place. We have everything from gyros to Mediterranean wraps, to burgers, to ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, waffles, grape leaves, seafood, soups and Greek salads.”
In addition, Rome2Greece offers homemade baklava, tiramisu, carrot cake and chocolate cake. Diners can enjoy any of the desserts with an after-dinner espresso or coffee, and Rome2Greece also offers a variety of delicious gluten-free smoothies.
Rome2Greece boasts five-star reviews on Yelp and Google. Yenigun has patrons who come from as far as Florence and Athens – Alabama, not Italy and Greece – to taste his piping hot lasagna.
“Everything you see is freshly made here. That’s what people love about it,” said Yenigun. “You can actually tell from the presentation and the plates themselves that they’re made fresh daily here. I go to Sprouts every morning on the way to work, and I pick our veggies with my own hands – every day.”
Glancing around the establishment, diners will see all-original artwork from Greece and Italy. From the wallpaper to the background music, Rome2Greece reflects Yenigun’s love of Europe and the Mediterranean. “My Open sign came from Europe. I carried it in my backpack all the way from London to Alabama,” said Yenigun.
The soft crooning of Daniel Roure’s French café music plays in the background. On some Saturday nights, Yenigun plays opera over the speakers. “People love it,” he said.
The entrepreneur studied interior design, electrical engineering and business, which gave him to skills to design, build, install the electricity, and decorate Rome2Greece – a feat he accomplished in 23 days. “Everything you see around here, I did it with my own hands,” said Yenigun.
Yenigun was still working on the café right up until opening day. He finished installing the floor at 6 a.m. that day, went home to shower and returned to host the grand opening at 9 a.m.
Yenigun said he appreciates the reception given to his café by Madison. “I love Madison. It’s really a very family-oriented city.” The dual citizen makes Madison his home, where he lives with his children and his wife, an American who is from this area.
Yenigun said Madison is peaceful and quiet compared to large cities where he has lived.
Work is enjoyable for this restauranteur, who said owning a café was his childhood dream.
“I make everything here fresh with love. You can tell it by the plate you’re being served,” he said. “My recipe, I would say, is my love – my love of what I do. There is no way you’re going to get 55 reviews and five stars if you don’t love what you do.”
Even if someone can’t make it to the Mediterranean coast this year, at least they can get a taste of its culinary offerings from Rome2Greece.
Rome2Greece is available for business lunches, dinners, parties and other special events. Catering is available. For more information, visit Rome2Greece.com, find the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram or call 256-325-0925.
1591 Hughes Road
Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.