Houston's Food Nazis

Some are curmudgeonly but intriguing. Others are just a bad trip to S&M land.

On a sunny, breezy mid-March afternoon, two young men decide to dine at a Greek restaurant in Montrose. They place their order -- gyro plate with a side of fries -- and begin reading magazines they've picked up from a rack near the restaurant's side entrance.

A tall, bald, mustachioed waiter with crooked teeth, dark circles beneath his eyes and a bit of a paunch comes by the table to refill waters. "You two drinka lika fish," he comments.

"Why you read magazines? You no like each other?" The two explain that they do enjoy one another's company. They are treated to a lecture on, among other things, the death of conversation. "People, they no communicate anymore. It's very sad."

Doug Mac
Doug Mac

"Who is this on this magazine?" Mustachioed Waiter asks as he sets down hot plates of food. "Paul Wall," the two answer. "He's a Houston rap artist," they offer when their explanation is greeted with a puzzled expression. "You like rap music?" they ask.

They are then treated to another lecture, this one about the current state of parenthood. "Parents no care for their kids anymore. They get in the way of careers; the parents go off to Paris and Spain for the weekend, leave the kids at home. The kids have no love inside, so they fill it with dis fuckin' garbage."

Didn't the gyro plate used to come with hummus?

"Listen to me," Mustachioed Waiter begins, "I'm a Greek man. This is the worst thing you can say to a Greek man. The Muslims, they burn my people for 400 years; we've never served hummus in this restaurant. We never will serve hummus in this restaurant...not after what the Muslims did to my people."

Niko Niko's serves hummus.

"I am not Niko Niko's," he retorts.

The death of conversation, the gaping void in a teenager's soul, the burning of a people for half a millennium -- not exactly your average waiter chitchat.

But John Katsimikis of Bibas One's a Meal is not your average waiter.

He's a philosopher, a doctor, a talk show host and a sage. He's a history professor, a fashion critic and a psychologist. John also happens to be a front-of-the-house restaurant lifer, 18 years at Bibas alone, 33 all told.

Another thing John is: a curmudgeon. He might, for instance, refuse to refill your tea after three glasses. "Too much caffeine is bad for you." He might bring you something to eat you didn't order. "Your nose is runny, no calzone for you. You need chicken soup!"

John is a lot of things. But one thing he isn't is a job-hating college student, temporarily hustling money to pay back school loans, donning a fake smile until his real job comes a-callin'. Want bland, generic service? You'll have to look elsewhere.

Hanging just outside Pat's King of Steaks in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Philly is a sign instructing non-regulars how to order. "Have your money ready!" it aggressively instructs. Approach the window fumbling for change and you will be dropped headlong into a world of scorn. Hell, even mumbling your words while ordering will earn you a spot at the back of the line. And it's a long line.

In short, they don't have time to coddle your rookie ass.

Al Yeganeh doesn't have time for your nonsense either. As a super-serious immigrant chef in Midtown Manhattan, Yeganeh earned his reputation by demanding that all customers in his establishment follow his meticulous and arbitrary soup-ordering instructions to the letter, lest they be refused service by his dismissive and insistent avowal, "No soup for you!"

Perhaps other establishments have time for your questions about the day's special or your personalized food requests. Yeganeh's Soup Kitchen International does not.

Ordering at Soup Kitchen International leaves an impression on people, not the least of whom was comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who, after a few run-ins with Yeganeh, dubbed him the Soup Nazi.

The rest is sitcom history.

Who is Houston's Soup Nazi? When the Houston Architecture Info Forum message board asked its users this very question, it got a handful of answers.

John at Bibas got plenty of run, most of a lighthearted "you'll never believe what he said to me" nature. Some users, however, hint at John's darker side, which apparently includes a bias against the English (tip: leave your copy of Harry Potter at home) and a penchant for making dates awkward. But mostly he's referred to as harmless, a "hoot," in the words of poster ssullivan.

Top honors on the "Who is Houston's Soup Nazi?" thread go to Doozo Dumpling and Noodle at the Shops at Houston Center, referred to on the board as "the dumpling nazi."

"In fact," says user Wendyps, "if you say you are going to the dumpling nazi, everyone knows where you are going."

The innocuous food court of Houston Center's shops is buzzing. Houston's downtown office drones have hiked by the bushelful to fill it, and have little time before it's back to the desk, the office or the cube. They must be fed.

They have several options, most of them quite typical. There's a Subway, a Long John Silver's, a pizza joint and, since this is Houston, a Ninfa's Express.

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