Heirloom Recipes

The Blue Ribbon-Winning, Unorthodox Souvlaki I Could Write a Novel About

January 13, 2017

My grandfather Alexander Velis (the man I'm named after) and his family left Greece during a time of war and unrest to come to the United States and achieve the American dream. They started working on the railroad, as this was one of the only jobs they were allowed to do.

My grandfather Alexander met my grandmother, Georgia Senes, in Ely, Nevada, where there was a community of Greek immigrants. They married, had my father soon after, and moved to Ogden, Utah, and opened several businesses.

My father's first job after returning from Vietnam was bartending at his uncle Spero's nightclub, The Volume One. That's where he met my mother, who was a cocktail waitress. She wasn't Greek but loved the culture, and after they married, they opened our family's restaurant, The 27th Street Grill, which is where they created their souvlaki recipe. The recipe is a bit unorthodox because my mom wouldn’t make it with beef, but rather elk and deer—whatever hunter-patrons would bring in from their recent kill. My mom gained the reputation of being one of the best grill cooks in town.

My mother and father at their restaurant. Photo by Alexandra V. Jones

The business closed in 1995, but our family’s souvlaki recipe has lived on; we have served it at weddings, holidays, Thanksgivings, catering jobs, fundraisers, birthdays... you name it. I used a variation of it and won the 2008 Utah State Fair Beef Cook-Off!

Me (left) and my mother (right) making souvlaki.

This souvlaki is the quintessential food that fuels my passion for cooking and family. It is a connection to my heritage, and I give a little bit of my heart with every skewer I serve. It has been there through every stage of my life.

What family recipe connects you most to your heritage? Tell us in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • thefolia
  • Alexandra V. Jones
    Alexandra V. Jones
Chef de cuisine @Shelburne hotel Seaview, WA


thefolia July 6, 2017
Zito to souvlaki! Souvla chicken is also a classic favorite of mine, I soak the chicken in feta juice for a day before grilling. No need to salt but do add pepper, oregano, olive oil and of course squeeze some lemon. I can't get my kiddos to eat chicken any other way since I've tried this (well maybe fried.) Happy feasting!
Alexandra V. July 7, 2017
I love this idea of using feta brine! Thanks for sharing!