I almost didn’t pull it out of the collection—it’s just a recipe book—but treasure is buried in all sorts of places at the John Oxley Library, and until you start digging you never know what gems you might find. Marcia Georges’ Greek by Heritage, Italian by Heart is unlike other Greek recipe books in that it details the author’s culinary lineage. Marcia’s father Michael Karlos came from Kastellorizo in the 1930s and, like many Greek migrants before him, owned and operated cafés. He had the Liberty Café in Stanley Street Woolloongabba and, later, the Astoria Café on the corner of Edward and Adelaide Streets in the city. But Michael was one of those men for whom a standard Greek café was never going to be enough. His career took off in 1954 when he opened the Carolena Coffee Lounge at 244 Queen Street opposite the GPO, and then in 1957, the Cubana Coffee Lounge in the Wallace Bishop Arcade in Albert Street where, according to Marcia, he introduced Brisbane to the espresso machine. The Cubana was my favourite haunt in the 1970s; the memory of those luscious choux rings never dims.
As the fifties drew to a close, Michael moved into the restaurant business. The Camelia Restaurant was downstairs in the Roubin Arcade at 117/9 Queen Street. It was open from 9.30am to midnight Monday to Saturday, and was one of the first restaurants in Queensland to secure a liquor licence. This was 1959, and while the menu catered to an Anglicised palette it featured Continental Cuisine. Marcia’s book shares some of the Camelia’s original recipes: Calamari in Garlic Sauce, Lobster Mornay, Lobster Thermidor, Steak Diane—prepared at the table by the Maitre d’ or head waiter—Carpet Bag Steak, Bombe Alaska, and Crepes Suzette, for which the Camelia was renowned. Having the dish prepared and flamed at the table was a culinary highlight for Brisbane diners.
Michael then installed son-in-law George Tambakis as manager at the Camelia and opened a restaurant called the Carousel Skyline Restaurant, overlooking the city on top of the Travelodge Motel at Kangaroo Point. When Michael retired he was operating the Top of the State, a nightclub with a revolving floor located on top of the S.G.I.O. building in Turbot Street. Michael Karlos started with a humble Greek café and went on to become a pioneer of Brisbane’s restaurant industry. But the story does not end there.
As a child, Marcia loved to play ‘cafés’ with her two older sisters: one played the cook, one was the waitress, and one was in charge of the doll customers. “We played this game a lot,” writes Marcia, “but never when friends came over. Having a Greek café owner father was a bit embarrassing back then” (12). In 1992 Marcia and husband Andy Georges opened Il Centro at Eagle Street Pier. The restaurant specialises in Italian food and was still one of Brisbane’s top restaurants when they sold it in 2017. Their famous Crab Lasagne recipe is in Marcia’s book.
What are your memories of these cutting-edge Brisbane food venues? We invite you to share them below. The John Oxley Library is also interested in acquiring photographs, documents and artefacts pertaining to the history of Greek migrants like Michael Karlos, who made Queensland their home. What gems are gathering dust at your place?
Marcia George. Greek by Heritage Italian by Heart, Brisbane: Brolga, 2012