Food Fight: Battle Gyro
|Photos by Katharine Shilcutt|
To be fair, the gyro is as much American as it is Greek. It was introduced to both Greece and America around the same time in the mid 20th century, based on the Turkish doner kebab (which is what you'd order if you wanted a gyro in Britain, by the by). And although it still retains a certain elusive foreign quality, the gyro is as ubiquitous these days as the taco.
That ubiquitousness can be good and bad. Gyros are a wonderful meal concept -- far more elegant than a sandwich but with all the same elements of meat, bread and vegetables -- and easy to grab and eat on the run. But because they're virtually omnipresent, it's hard to find a really good one. Overly crispy or old-tasting meat, dry pita bread, bland tzatziki sauce -- there are endless ways to ruin a gyro.
So for this week's Food Fight we asked our faithful readers to submit their favorite gyros in Houston for our consideration. Of the many comments we received, the two front-runners were to be found at Cafe Pita + in Westchase and Stelio's in the Galleria area. The third most popular option, Ellie's Kitchen & Catering in Friendswood, sounded intriguing as well and should make for a promising weekend food trip.
Whose gyro reigned supreme? Find out below.
Cafe Pita +
This popular Bosnian restaurant on the far west side of town has held our fascination for years, due in large part to their cheese-filled plejskavice, their succulent cevap links and the spinach-stuffed burek that are the size of clown shoes. And for these very reasons, we'd never even bothered to try their gyro.
Stopping by this afternoon, we were greeted by a fairly long wait, considering Cafe Pita's dreary strip-center location (although the inside is warm, cozy and cheery -- especially on a rainy day). Suffice to say Cafe Pita + doesn't have a problem attracting customers, whether the tables are filled with some of the many Bosnian ex-pats living on the west side or Westchase office dwellers out for a cheap, delicious lunch.
The gyro at Cafe Pita is served Cypriot-style. That is, the "pita" bread is split into a pocket and the meat is stuffed inside. And this is what makes all the difference. Instead of using traditional pita bread, the thick, fluffy, spongy Bosnian bread called lepinja is used instead. Filling the middle are long, thin, finely carved ribbons of lamb -- and nothing else. This is how a gyro should be served, with all the "salad" fixings on the side, to be added as the diner sees fit. We added a little tomato and onion to our gyro, but mostly left it alone. The lamb was tempting enough to eat on its own, and it seemed almost rude to add any of the watery tzatziki to such moist, tender meat.
Ekko's Deli (a.k.a. Stelio's)
Yes, it's a gas station. But don't let that put you off. Ekko's has been serving wonderful Greek food out of this little service station cum restaurant for years. Although no longer owned by Steve Bouboudakis, the Greek jack-of-all-trades who started the restaurant, the food doesn't seem to have suffered.
We ordered our gyro to go, since there's really nowhere to eat inside of the gas station and the tables outside weren't too appealing on a rainy day, and waited only a few seconds for our gyro to be dressed and brought out. It was a stark difference from the full 15 minutes we waited for our to-go order at Cafe Pita. Is it better for a restaurant to be too fast or take too long?
Ekko's gyro is as basic and traditional as it gets -- pressed meat served inside of a very average piece of grilled pita bread, topped with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and with a side of tzatziki sauce. No surprises here. The meat was good, if a bit too crispy around the edges. The bread was nothing to write home about, but the tzatziki sauce was actually far better (and thicker) than Cafe Pita's.
Both restaurants are great for lunchtime office workers. Both boast a considerable amount of eye candy for the ladies (Cafe Pita with its gorgeous young Bosnian waiters and Ekko with its tall drink of blond-haired, tattooed ouzo behind the counter). And both are fairly similar in price. But the food couldn't be more different between the two.
Although it barely seems fair to pit two such different gyros against one another, the winner here is Cafe Pita +. With thick bread and juicy meat that stand out on their own -- sans salad toppings, sans dressing -- and the comfort of knowing that your food is being made to order even if it takes 15 minutes, Cafe Pita + edged out Ekko's in this battle. But perhaps a baklava rematch is in the future...