His restaurant, called The Spartan Burger and Souvlaki Bar in a nod to his Mediterranean heritage, is located close to the entrance of Phuket’s famous Muay Thai training hotspot Soi Ta-ied.
That’s a good thing too, because you need an appetite worked up from a hard day’s training to take on one of the hearty burgers or chunky souvlakis for which The Spartan is quickly becoming known.
Alex was born in Greece to a very food-focused family, and even after moving to Australia at age 13, he was constantly surrounded by family members who made their living through food.
“Between my extended family we’ve got all bases covered: Abattoir, greengrocers, importers, a pastry chef... so I’ve just been involved in food for a long time,” says Alex.
Alex is no novice himself with two successful cafes in Melbourne, a city famous for its competitive and cutting-edge cafe scene. And as I spoke to him about the food on offer at The Spartan it quickly became clear that he takes his work in the kitchen very seriously.
“The key thing about here is that we make everything from scratch… mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pickles… I just couldn’t find good burger pickles here… even the yogurt for the tzatziki we make from scratch,” reveals Alex.
You can really taste the difference too, Alex handed me a squirt of each of his house-made sauces to sample and they are bursting with flavour, his tangy ketchup and sweet BBQ sauce putting store-bought versions to shame
It’s not just your basic condiments either, Alex guards the recipe for his Big Spartan special sauce (his take on Big Mac special sauce) closely and the caramelised onion jam and Australian-style tomato bush relishes add a rich and complex layer of taste to any burger.
But it doesn’t stop there, he also makes his own pita bread for souvlaki and to serve with his freshly made hummus and tzatziki dips. He also makes all of his own spice mixes to season the burger patties and the huge slab of layered meat for the yeeros that spins in front of the grill every day in the high season.
He also has a butcher’s keen eye and respect for quality meat, buying whole sides of pork and beef to butcher to his liking. A devotee of dry-aged beef, he has even set up a dry-ageing fridge above the restaurant to ensure his beef is dried for 30 days in the ideal temperature and humidity conditions. Once it’s ready he trims it up and minces it up for his huge burger patties, which are cooked to the customers’ liking.
If you like your beef then Alex suggests you try the Big Spartan: A tribute to the Big Mac with two patties, slices of two different types of cheese, pickles, lettuce, caramelised onion jam, and Secret Spartan Sauce.
For the purists there is the Simple Spartan: A beef or pork patty with American cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, caramelised onion jam, Spartan relish and a drizzle of mayonnaise.
Or if you like a bit of spice, then do what I did and order the Scorched Spartan, which has all of the above but kicks it up a notch with some jalapeño peppers and house-made chipotle mayonnaise.
If you prefer chicken there is the Mississippi Spartan: A succulent chicken thigh either grilled of southern-fried with slaw, pickles and topped with chipotle mayo.
If you feel like something different, than a yeeros is sure to cure any hunger, with slices of tender grilled pork or chicken (or both) marinated in a unique spice blend and served with house-made tzatziki, chips, tomato, onion and a tomato-mustard sauce. Alternatively you can opt for an open souvlaki or yeeros plate with meat, grilled pita bread, fries and a Greek salad.
For vegetarians, or just those looking for something a tad lighter, you can order a vegetable patty on any burger or you can try a delicious falafel wrap doused in tasty tzatziki. There is also a classic Greek salad available, as well as Alex’s Cabbage Patch salad – a Mediterranean-style blend of cabbage, olive oil, lemon, vinegar, celery, herbs and carrots. Hummus, tzatziki and pita bread can also be ordered separately.
Naturally, fries are the perfect compliment to any burger and besides the traditional potato fries, Spartan offers sweet potato fries, potato wedges dusted with Spartan spice and fried onion rings – all served with your choice of house-made sauce. Alex says he is in the process of putting chilli cheese fries on the menu, so with any luck, by the time you read this they should be available.
If you’ve still got room, or just a sweet tooth, you can top of your meal with a waffle. Choices include the classic malted Belgium waffle with whipped butter and maple syrup or whipped cream and nutella sauce, the Snickers waffle, red velvet waffle (with cream cheese frosting), funky monkey waffle (caramelised bananas, chocolate chips, peanut and honey sauce) or even a fried chicken waffle.
With a line-up like that it’s clear that The Spartan is not your run-of-the-mill burger joint, but a heavyweight contender in the island’s best burger battle. In fact Alex sold out of burgers at the recent Phuket’s Best Burger competition and his veggie burger won the praise of the judges, despite not being in official competition.
It seems that Alex has still got a few more tricks up his sleeves. His Melbourne-style breakfast cafe Poached is opening next door to The Spartan in time for high season and his food truck “Hangry Dogs” is ready to hit the streets slinging New York-style hotdogs – keep an eye out for it around Soi Ta-ied and events across Phuket.
So it looks like we’ve got a lot more to look forward to following the fantastic debut of The Spartan on the island’s food scene. Watch this space.