Gyros are a quick, satisfying meal readily available at fast food joints and diners across the U.S. While most of these sandwiches are solidly unremarkable, some restaurants offer unique versions that are packed with high-quality ingredients. If you’re enrolled in culinary academy, you’re discovering numerous approaches to preparing exceptional pieces of meat quickly. You can learn a great deal about putting an attractive spin on a familiar item from the examples of these gyro purveyors.
The origins of the gyro
Tracing its roots to Greece, gyros feature heavily seasoned meat that is slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Indeed, the name “gyro” comes from the Greek word for “spin.” As What’s Cooking America pointed out, this means of preparation is likely borrowed from the Turkish doner kebab. Generally served in a pita, the sandwiches come with toppings like tomato, onion, lettuce, cucumber, a yogurt-based sauce and French fries.
Serious Eats explained that traditional Greek gyros feature thin slices of marinated pork. The versions available in many American establishments, by contrast, are either a combination of lamb and beef or chicken. These cylinders of meat are mass-produced and flash-frozen by manufacturers like Illinois-based Kronos and transported to restaurants nationwide. According to the New York Times, this system developed in Chicago in mid-1970s, with a few different companies claiming to have originated the concept.
Taking a casual favorite to the next level
When it comes to restaurants serving mass-produced gyros, the quality of any given sandwich comes down to a few factors. The temperature and time allowed for roasting the meat determines whether it comes out properly tender and caramelized. The pita should be warmed until it’s soft and easy to eat, and the vegetables should be fresh.
While many diners are happy with this approach, others long for a more authentic, Greek-style experience. That’s where a place like Boston’s Gyro City comes in. The Boston Globe reported that owner Paul Christopher nightly applies a dry rub to a 100-pound skewer of pork shoulder and belly. The meat goes on a warm white or wheat pita with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and french fries. Christopher told the Globe that the fries are unquestionably a part of his commitment to serving the sandwiches the way they were meant to be eaten.
“Go to Greece, get a gyro and tell me how they make it,” he said.
Some restaurants have even taken an ambitious, gourmet-influenced tack on gyros. San Francisco-based Souvla offers several variations on its pita-wrapped Greek sandwich, emphasizing organic meats. Patrons can choose a pork shoulder from American Homestead Natural Meats with cherry tomatoes, pickled red onion, feta cheese and minted Greek yogurt. The free-range chicken comes with fennel, navel orange, onion, pea shoots, “Granch” dressing and Mizithra, a Greek goat’s cheese. There’s also lamb leg available and even a vegetarian option made with roasted white sweet potato.
Publican’s Quality Meats in Chicago has taken the gyro even farther from its status as late-night junk food. True to its name, this location, which combines a whole-animal butcher, bakery and sandwich shop, specializes in a variety of delicious animal products. Rather than serving up a factory-made meat hybrid, Publican’s gyro features fresh, braised pork belly. Accompanying the meat on the griddled flatbread are the Spanish eggplant and pepper combination escalivada and pea shoots. This dish is topped with raita, an Indian yogurt and cucumber condiment, and a Calabrian chili vinaigrette.
Chefs who can contribute a great new take to a comforting favorite are always sure to attract loyal customers. Gyros are just one familiar dish that can benefit from applying culinary training and a creative mind.