22 August, 2013


Everyone needs a place like Greek Islands Coney Restaurant.

You know—a local “joint” that’s the just-right balance of casual and quality, so you never have to worry about whether the food is gonna be any good, or, critically, what you have to wear. A place where they know your family, your “usual,” and where “everybooooody knows your name…”

Hand-painted murals grace the walls of Greek Islands. One (in “section five”) is a parody of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel only God and Adam are reaching for a Coney dog. Another (which blazes just above the entrance) is of The Last Supper painted with Greek gods instead of Christian disciples.

I knew every person that bused the tables, waited them, cooked the food, and ran the register. I knew the ins-and-outs of their lives. I knew the neon lights. I knew the menu backwards, and what was better on Tuesdays (go get the Greek Islands Special Salad with the signature dressing, but start with saganaki cheese). When they light the saganaki on fire after smothering it in brandy, the waitress will yell “OPA!” before dousing the flame with a fresh lemon.

Mere words fail to describe not merely the love, but the enormity of time spent in "G.I" (as we all eventually came to call it), from eating there every night we “decided” not to cook, to working there for years as a teenager.

Greek Islands— as described in the full title— is a “Coney” Restaurant owned by a local Cypriot family. Its main (and original) branch is located in Birmingham Michigan, right in the heart of Downtown on Hamilton Road (between Maple and Woodward) in a building that used to be a carpet and tiling store in the mid-90s (Dad helped GI with a few legalities in fact). Their current location is right behind the Palladium 12 multiplex cinema that used to be a department store. Not to be confused with the Birmingham 8 Art Cinema down the street that used to be a live housing theatre—the town has changed a lot over the years. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Like all towns, everywhere.

Well. What better place to eat the day after the funeral?

Sleepless, haggard, and unable to face opening the refrigerator full of goulash and leftover deli-meat, the five of us piled into the Jeep and drove to Greek Islands, eating slowly, silently, unable to quite tell our friends behind the counter, at the register, bussing the tables, why Michael was not with us. Was no longer with us. Why he would, in fact, never be with us again. Never to share the Special Salad, or joke and laugh aloud with John (the owner), or smile at Shauna (the hostess), or ask if he could take an extra strawberry-flavored Dum Dum lollipop after paying the check to give to me.
The place was quiet, for we had come after the dinner rush, and the warmth from the people and the kitchen, along with the bright neon lights that lined the ceiling only served to emphasize the darkness both outside and within.

We sat there prodding at our food in a state of awful quiet.

Then, in a rush of lightning-quick, burning grief, tears burst from within my mother. The force of it was shocking, the kind that makes one choke. Catherine—in the same lavender coat she wore over the lavender dress at the funeral—quickly caught herself, tears leaking from her face. She reigned it in with the left hand which glittered still from her wedding ring in the impossibly cheery neon lights.

We all looked at her, and Kent, placing his hand gently atop her arm silently said We are here Cathy. We were. She nodded, and placed her hand on top of his own—in gratitude. And though we returned to our food, no one was hungry.

Our GI Family glanced over—Eleni the matron waitress consoling her children Paul and Theresa in the distant corner over in section five. Mercury the bus boy, Tikko in the kitchen— they all exchanged looks of disbelief. You could almost see their hearts sinking.

That night, dinner was on the house.

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