Avli Mess Hall Brings Farm-to-Table Mediterranean to Main Street

Hunting & Gathering

BY BRITTANY MATTIE SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY DEC 24, 2019

Restaurateur Edward Zaki has been in the restaurant industry for over 25 years, owning multiple places in Montreal, Canada including the most current, Chez Victoire, with partner Chef Alexandre Gosselin. After becoming fast friends (now going on 16 years), the Canadian duo found themselves looking for another new restaurant venture, but somewhere further south with a drastically different terrain. “I’m not sure how we ended up in Sarasota,” quips Zaki’s wife Mila Aguiar, “but we fell in love with the beauty of the city and the kindness of the people.” 

Upon stumbling on the Main Street cornerstone many locals knew and loved as El Greco—one of downtown’s oldest restaurants, having opened in 1989—Zaki, Aguiar and Gosselin decided to take over ownership, keep its Grecian identity but elevate its aesthetic and change its name. With ‘avli’ meaning 'open courtyard' in ancient Greek, and ‘mess hall’ meaning a space where groups of people meet or gather to eat, drink, laugh and socialize, Avli Mess Hall intended to do just that. 

“We love to entertain, so adding a bar was important to us,” shares Aguiar, general manager of Avli. After acquiring a liquor license and renovating the outdated furniture and decor, the space transformed to include a vibrant central bar and sociable seating. Inside now evokes a more casual tavern-like atmosphere, with the coastal warmth often associated with Hellenic culture. The building's revamp also included an exterior paint job of bright oceanic blue—remniscent of the archetypal dome-shaped rooftops found along the Grecian Isle coastlines. 

In the kitchen, the owners showcased their contemporary flare through Avli's rebranded Mediterranean menu of farm-to-table cuisine. “We wanted to bring to Sarasota what we do in Montreal,” says Aguiar. Chef Alexandre Gosselin updated the European cafe concept, but with a modern and more playful take—experimenting with different flavors of traditional ingredients and executing unexpected combinations that are a little risky, a lot of fun and certainly fresh.

All meats and fish are cooked over a burning wood fire, and will often feature a special catch of the day, or a grilled salmon with red pepper gazpacho

With its chef-driven kitchen of locally sourced produce, a boutique wine list, craft beers and even craftier cocktails, Avli Mess Hall aims to create a new namesake and hangout for downtown. After officially opening earlier this month, Zaki hopes to begin bringing the community together—as he did in Montreal for so many yearsto enjoy heartfelt and healthy food in a gathered space with familiar company. “We hope to bring to Main a breath of fresh air and a new experience,” says Aguiar. And maybe get a little messy too. 

Photo of Executive Chef Alexandre and renovated interior shot, courtesy of Avli.

Avli Mess Hall, 1592 Main St., Sarasota, 941-365-2234, @avli_mess_hall.

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