When I started this column at the beginning of the year, I was confident that I could find tons of reasons for all of us to stay — and spend money — here in the Cliff. Even an optimist like me, though, thought it would take a bit longer to find someplace besides Hattie’s to make our brethren north of the Trinity sit up and smell the polenta. Just chalk it up to a pre-Kavala mentality — because Kavala, 1417 W. Davis, has, literally, changed my tiny family’s life.

First, let me say that Kavala, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant opened last month by CliffDwelling chefs Kelly and Elizabeth Hightower, is already a hit, judging by how hard it can be to get a table some nights. And if the Hightower name sounds familiar, it may be because Kelly recently served as the executive chef at Hattie’s, creating some of their signature favorites like goat-cheese grits with shrimp-and-Tabasco gravy.

At Kavala, which takes its name from a small Greek fishing port, foodies can rejoice in Kelly’s fabulous, Greek-inspired appetizers and entrees. The kitchen-impaired can celebrate the fact that the ranks of neighborhood dining options not involving salsa or a fry machine have swelled a bit more. And diners seeking a bit of romance can bask in Kavala’s subdued lighting and warm décor — albeit, after about 8 p.m.

I say after 8 p.m. because, early evenings, Kavala is becoming mostly the territory of families. Families like mine have been craving a place to eat that offers top-tier food for mom and dad and an actual kid’s menu, not to mention a dining environment that, while welcoming for kids, doesn’t involve clowns or cartoon bunnies. And, a biggie for me, no crayons — at least for a few more weeks. “Ahh. The crayon question,” says Elizabeth Hightower. “My kids think we should have them. But we’re holding off for now.”

It’s no accident that Kavala appeals to such a broad cross-section of CliffDiners. When the Hightowers — parents of four — decided that it was time to open a place of their own, they knew two things: it would be Mediterranean, and it had to be a place their own kids would like. “The kid’s menu was important to us,” says Elizabeth, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. “We said, ‘You can definitely do a kid’s menu that…well…tastes good.” And the Mediterranean focus? “I love its simplicity and straightforward flavors,” asserts Kelly, whose resume boasts stints at both The Mansion and the Tei Tei Robata Bar. “If you look around, it’s a niche that needed to be filled around here.”

For many families, Kavala’s menu starts and stops with its brick-oven pizza. With pies ranging from basic cheese pizza to Mediterranean-inspired pies with toppings like feta, Spanish anchovies and spinach, Kavala’s pizza makes for a mouthwatering wake-up call for families stuck in the thin-crust-with-pepperoni rut.
And with prices ranging from $6 for the kid’s pie to $10-$12 for more complex flavors, Kavala pizza makes for a perfect night out for the soccer-and-fingerpaint set. Or, if you call ahead, you can order take-out
for the perfect night in.

Besides pizza, items that seem to be working well for their diners include their hummus, and their creamy polenta with forest mushrooms, which I, personally, could take a bath in. Other friends have fallen in love with everything from a lunchtime kale-and-sausage Portuguese soup to Kavala’s signature lamb souvlakis and gyros. Consider this your warning: if you go, you’ll be hooked.

North Dallas families, eat your heart out. Or, head on down and see for yourself what family dining — without a purple cow or a waitress on roller skates — looks like.

Kavala, 1417 West Davis in Oak Cliff, 214-942-8100