Mike Isabella’s third Greek concept and his first restaurant in Maryland, Kapnos Kouzina features home-style Greek cuisine with a focus on rustic dishes and sharable platters. The restaurant’s liquid offerings feature a Greek-heavy wine list and Mediterranean-inspired cocktails by Mike Isabella Concepts beverage director, Taha Ismail. Kouzina, Greek for kitchen, offers a casual ambiance fitting to its name.
George Pagonis is executive chef and partner at Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna and Kapnos Kouzina. At Kapnos, George helped put mainland Greek cuisine, including daily whole animal roasting, on the map in the nation’s capital when it opened in 2013. He competed on season 12 of the hit Bravo TV series Top Chef.
Before opening Kapnos, Chef George served as chef de cuisine at Mike Isabella’s Italian-inspired flagship, Graffiato, also in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Graffiato, Chef George cooked at Aureole in New York under Christophe Bellanca and Marcus Ware. Before that, the fluent Greek-speaker worked at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, where he first cooked under Mike Isabella. His first tour of duty in a fine dining kitchen was at New York’s Le Cirque. Chef George attended the University of Mary Washington, and though he followed that up with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, he first earned his kitchen stripes at The Four Seasons, an Alexandria, Va. Greek diner owned by his father.
Mike Isabella is a Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur, honored in 2016 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Restaurateur of the Year. In 2011, Isabella opened Graffiato to critical acclaim. Isabella now has more than a dozen restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with additional outposts in National Airport. His newest and largest project is a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia. Isabella Eatery is an unprecedented nine-concept dining experience spanning 41,000 square feet in Tysons Galleria, a luxury retail outlet in Northern Virginia.
In 2012, Isabella was named FOOD & WINE magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic. Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian is his first cookbook, also published in 2012.
Outside the kitchen, Isabella was a judge on “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown” on FYI. Previously, he competed on Season Six of Top Chef, and Top Chef Duels, and he was the runner-up on Top Chef All-Stars. He was also a member of the American Chef Corps, a network of chefs from across the United States who serve as culinary diplomats and resources to the Department of State.
Before opening Graffiato, Isabella was the executive chef of José Andrés’ Zaytinya. During his three-year tenure, Isabella generated accolades and national attention for Washington, D.C.’s Mediterranean powerhouse restaurant.
Before settling in D.C., Isabella moved to Atlanta and found his culinary niche when he joined Buckhead Life Group’s top-notch Greek restaurant, Kyma. As chef de cuisine of the seafood-inspired menu, Isabella learned the flavors and techniques of Greek cooking.
Isabella’s formal training began at The Restaurant School in New York, taking classes and cooking his way through some of New York City’s finest establishments. Later, he traveled down the coast to Philadelphia, first as a sous chef for James Beard award winner Douglas Rodriguez at Alma de Cuba, then a host of other Stephen Starr restaurants. At El Vez, Isabella learned the true craft of Latin cuisine under the direction of Jose Garces, and as executive sous chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s Washington Square, where Isabella educated himself on the art of opening a fine dining establishment.
Meet the Family
Two wood-fire grills with rotating spits are the centerpiece of this mainland Greek concept. Guests enjoy carvings from whole spit-roasted lamb, goat, pig and chicken, as well as an extensive menu of spreads, phyllo pies and, vegetable dishes meant for sharing.
Kapnos Taverna, a sister restaurant to Mike Isabella’s Kapnos, features more of a coastal look at Greek cuisine alongside some of the biggest hits from his modern ode to mainland and northern Greece. A second location is open in Ronald Reagan National Airport, and a third outpost will open in College Park, Maryland in 2017.