I wasn’t telling Jimmy Soursos anything he didn’t know when I said that Great Neck has not been kind to restaurants over the last five years. (Among the recently fallen: + 39 Italian Eatery, Ippon Cuisine, Saaho Village, Element Seafood and its immediate predecessor, Katarina.) But Sea Bar seems poised to beat the odds.
Soursos is also the owner of Greek Xpress, a fast-casual chainlet with four locations on Long Island. His Great Neck store opened in 2018 and, Soursos said, "during the pandemic, business has not fallen off at all." Moreover, one bit of customer feedback he heard again and again was "can you add more seafood to the menu?"
And so, he took over a storefront a block away that had, for four months in 2018, been the pan-Asian Ren Wen Noodle Factory.
Soursos’s Greek family is from Sparta and his partner at Sea Bar, chef Gregory Zapantis, was born on the island of Kefalonia, but they decided not to open a Greek seafood restaurant. First, they didn’t want to compete with Greek Xpress in any way, but the two men, both seafood lovers, wanted the freedom to explore the world of fish cookery. Sea Bar has a raw bar and global starters such as popcorn shrimp, Maryland crab cakes and fish tacos.
The eight fish mains (fillets of salmon, Chilean sea bass, ahi tuna, Arctic char, cod, lemon sole and whole branzino and red snapper) are grilled and served with the diner’s choice of sauces: lemon and olive oil, tomato and ginger, herbs and cream, cilantro and lime or Cajun tartar sauce. There’s also a lobster roll, steaks, lamb chops, pan-roasted chicken, steamed or grilled lobsters and lobster pasta.
An undeniable Hellenic influence can be seen in such dishes as the flash-fried red mullet (barbounia), braised green beans (fasolakia) and rustic tomato salad (horiatiki).
Prices are, for a seafood restaurant, very gentle. Most starters are less than $15; the most expensive main is $29.
Zapantis has a long and distinguished resume which includes the Manhattan restaurants Estiatorio Milos, Trata, Kellari and Thalassa as well as a recent stint at the short-lived Vilai in Glen Cove which received 2½ stars in 2018. The chef, whose father was a fisherman, is nuts for fish. He deals with seven different suppliers on a regular basis: Sea Bar’s red mullet comes from Senegal, tuna from Japan, branzino from Greece and salmon from the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.
His favorite dish on the menu may be the most humble. Sea Bar’s fish soup is a two-day undertaking that pays homage to the lean years of his childhood. "When the fisherman would come back from a night of fishing," Zapantis recalls, "they’d set aside any fish that were small or ugly and that’s what we’d make the soup from. Since everyone was also a farmer they would have a few vegetables that they grew and, with plenty of olive oil and lemons, that was the soup. We called it kakavia." At Sea Bar, the kakavia is made with nice-sized (and nice-looking) grouper and is served in a gorgeous one-serving copper pot, but it still evinces the soul of Kefalonia.
Sea Bar currently seats 18 people and does its own delivery within two miles of Great Neck Plaza. 7 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck Plaza, 516-441-5708, seabar.life.