As the seas receded after Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016, it was apparent that the mighty Atlantic Ocean had claimed a landmark or two across the Oldest City. One victim was a large sign which, for more than thirty years, had been advertising the “seafood, steaks, pasta and spirits,” and daily specials on offer within Anastasia Island mainstay Zaharias Restaurant and Lounge. Because of changes in zoning, the new Zaharias sign will have to be much shorter. Inside, however, regulars will find the large dining area, the nautical décor, the down-home familial atmosphere, and the smiling faces behind the restaurant’s popular bar unchanged.
One of those faces is that of current co-owner Angelika Zaharias. Angelika, who (along with her brother Othan) took over ownership from her parents in the mid-90s, has been filling drinks and providing a comforting ear for nearly her entire adult life.
Angelika’s father, an immigrant from Greece, was somewhat of an Appalachian restaurateur in the family’s hometown of Cookville, Tennessee. He built Zaharias in 1987 after only one brief visit to St. Augustine. The restaurant was a second home for Angelika, who often spent her weekends and most holidays tending bar.
She remembers those days, vividly. “It was always crazy busy [back then],” she says of the time before chain restaurants and large grocers came to the island. “There was lots of smoking going on inside. It was always very lively.”
“People were just looking for a place that wasn’t a tourist trap,” she continues. “I think people like [Zaharias] because it has always just felt like a local place.”
Today Zaharias continues to attract a devoted clientele with beer specials and stiff liquor drinks, including a house-made margarita and a popular spin on a Mind Eraser, known to locals as a “mindie.”
“I hate to be the one to say that mind erasers are our drink of choice,” Angelika says, laughing as she describes the drink (Tito’s vodka, Tia Maria liqueur, and club soda in a short glass). “But people really like them. When regulars bring newcomers, they always say, ‘give ‘em a mindie.”
Aside from initiating plans to install a new – albeit smaller – sign, Angelika recently installed new booths and added some new tables to the dining room. Asked what she would change if she were mysteriously given a magic wand, Angelika pauses before saying, “Honestly, I love [the restaurant] the way it is.”
“I could just clone my bartenders I’d be all set,” Angelika continues, laughing. “After all these years, it’s the locals that keep me going. They are the ones who keep me busy and smiling.”
Zaharias is located at 3945 A1A South. Visit them online at www.facebook.com/Zaharias.
Images by Brian Miller