NiteTalk: Liza Meoli, Anise Taverna's Better Half

Miamians dig their dining out. We especially dig having a cornucopia of eateries to choose from. After all, we are a polyglot town. When it comes to food from other lands, among the best on hand is Anise Taverna. Nooked nicely just off the Boulevard on the Little Miami River, the Greek-based Anise is everything one would want in an internationally savvy neighborhood joint and then some. Much of that savvy springs from Liza Meoli, who along with her husband, Gigi, runs the ever-hopping hotspot as if it were their very own home. We'd like to say Liza is Anise's better half. But with a duo as dynamic as this one, better is really only relative.

You're an Aussie-born Greek married to a French-Italian American. Does that make you feel right at home in polyglot Miami? I grew up in a melting-pot city (Sydney) so part of the reason I fell in love and at home in Miami was the diverse culture, especially the Latin part of it. My father was a Bolero singer in Egypt and used to sing Latin songs to us and I was a Latin dancer for 10 years. My original plan for my travels was initially for that reason. A cultural search.

Meeting Gigi seemed like a natural partnership. The Greeks and the French are opposites in many ways -- in a good way. The Italians are more like the Greeks and the Aussies are similar to Americans. No major clashes. In the end we are all fruits.

Speaking of the happy clash of cultures, Anise serves more than just Greek dishes. What are a few other countries and/or regions that are represented on your menu? Gigi grew up in Toulouse, France, which has a heavy North African influence. He insisted we add Merguez (spicy Moroccan lamb sausage) to the menu, which is quite a popular dish with our foodies. We have visited most of the Mediterranean area and enjoyed different foods and flavors from each place. They (the other Med countries) are more adventurous than the Greeks with their spices. And we have added many of these exotic spices to our dishes. One thing that we will always live by though is our olive oil rule.  No butter is used in our dishes. Even my French husband is ok with that.

If you had to pin it down, what would you say is Anise's signature dish? Right away our Grilled Octopus comes to mind. Our customers have said that it's the most tender and juiciest that they have ever had. It is quite a process getting it that way. It is time-consuming and sends off an unpleasant odor while cooking. So they are just better off coming here for it.

Anise Taverna has only been open just over a year yet it feels as if it's always been one of our favorite places to dine. Why do you think that is? We opened Anise in November '08 after losing our second restaurant in Sunset Harbor to construction problems and bad timing. We had a good six-year run with our first Ouzo's in Normandy Isles, and our loyal customers are happy to follow us to our new location. ... Even though it was an Indian place at the time, all we envisioned was a Taverna. We spent our honeymoon on the Greek Islands and wanted to create and capture something similar in Miami. We felt plenty of soul. We kept it rustic and simple just as our personalities are.

Anise is located on the Little Miami River, which once was an infamous smuggling route. Have you any crazy waterfront stories to share? I have heard many stories from our customers that I would love to tell you over a bottle of ouzo one night but right now I see the most beautiful Miami starlit sky with a spectacular full moon, flying fish and a night for romance. It's the whole package right here by the Little Miami River. A little hidden piece of paradise right in your neighborhood.

Anise also happens to be located off the Boulevard in what's called the Upper East Side. How would you say the neighborhood is coming along and how has it helped with your success? Like every other location that we have ventured into we have had friends, family and people opposing our decision and stating that it will be impossible for us to succeed in that or this location. The Upper East Side is exactly what we imagined it to be. Interesting, challenging, full of both character and characters, and it has enabled and inspired us to create our own little place that we love.

When you do head out on the town, where do you most like to go?
We love trying new restaurants -- especially local. Our favorite three though are Timo's for its consistency, Michaels for its Genuine chef that has helped put Miami on the map and Joey's for being a great local, accessible eatery that everyone can enjoy.

What's on the horizon for the Meolis?
Keep traveling and learning, especially to different parts of Greece for new dishes and inspiration. To continue to nurture, appreciate and care for what we have now -- each other, our family, Anise and our extended family at Anise. To grow with the neighborhood and to keep loving what we do.

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