Category: Gyros

A Romp Through The Red River Valley Fair & A Gyro Rant

This past weekend, Jake headed North to Grand Forks while I drove east.

On the way to the Twin Cities, I stopped at the Red River Valley Fair in search of lunch.  At 11 a.m., the temperature had already crept well into the 90’s and the fairgrounds were mostly deserted.  I parked in a dusty gravel lot and wandered through the unattended gate.  Some of the animal exhibits appeared to be open while the midway was closed until noon.

I wondered if I would only be in the company of fair employees, until I encountered a handful of adults trying to pacify bored children with fruity drinks.  Obviously, the party wasn’t in full swing yet.  The midway was expansive and rows of food stalls advertised guilty pleasures of the fried kind.  I imagined what I’d miss.  It was unfortunate Jake and I couldn’t attend together.

I meandered through the food stalls searching for a vendor who was ready for business.  Santa Lucia’s booth had food on the griddle so I stopped for a gyro (Santa Lucia is a small local chain with a full-service restaurant serving Greek and Italian food and smaller locations offering take and bake pizza).

When it comes to gyros, bigger is just not better.  I want my gyros constructed with intention and functionality by the foil cone.  Iceberg lettuce is bad, as its rendered slimy and stinky when placed on hot foods.  Onion is not optional since it cuts the richness of the meat and yogurt.  I’m down with cones of processed gyro meat as long as its shaves are thin and crispy around the edges.  Griddling the meat can be good enough.

The last gyros I bought from Aladdin’s in Fargo cured my cyclical gyro craving, but the second one kind of sucked.  Although the fries were freshly fried, they were covered in a seasoning salt that reeked of what tasted like citric acid.  While I waited, I definitely heard the ping of a microwave.  I assume it was related to my gyro because I was the only customer in the store.  I microwave food in the privacy of my own home, but I’ll be damned if I pay something else to.  On a positive note, the employee waived the charge for a side of hot sauce, which was nice.

At the Red River Valley Fair, the man from Santa Lucia’s warmed the pita bread on the griddle, gently filled it with meat, grilled vegetables, yogurt sauce, and fresh salad, and formed it into the iconic foil cone. I was surprised that the meat wasn’t shaved from a cone.  Instead, I noticed thin, rectangular meat slices like those found in frozen gyro kits.  The bland meat was saved by its garnishes.  Solid yogurt sauce, caramelized vegetables, and salad made from crisp romaine and fresh parsley.

I cringed when my gyro and lemonade tallied $12, but such is the price I’ll pay in hope of street meat that just. . . doesn’t suck.

Actually, Gyros might be in the category where the bad ones are still good.  Just less good.  Kind of like pizza.

It was an odd experience eating a gyro while sitting, alone, in an empty carnival.  I savored my meal while I listened to the songs of food stand employees and returned the blank stares of ride operators.

On the way to my car, I bought a small mound of cheese curds, $6.  They were offered in about four flavors and I was kind of horrified that they were sold by buckets of increasing sizes.  Although they didn’t seem to be freshly battered, the crunchy coating was light and squeaked between my teeth.  Plus, they were as grease-less as cheese curds could possibly manage.

A step above the variety shellacked in that course, breadcrummy coating.

My short stay in Minneapolis was its own type of comfort food.  Nurtured by family and reunited with friends.  Cruising up and down 35W and parallel parking.  I nailed it twice on the first try.  Maybe it’s like riding a bike.

I tried to stave off home sickness when I joined a partly drunk/partly sober group of college Alma maters for a walk.  We wandered past the glowing Institute of Arts, to Eat Street where we stopped at A Slice of New York for late night pizza by the slice.  The staff patiently warmed our giant slices and tucked them into paper bags as we told stories.  Some raved about their slices of tomato and feta, while I managed to polish off a plank topped with bell peppers and gyro meat.  As if a gyro nearly 12 hours ago wasn’t enough. . .

On the way back to the Twin Cities, I briefly explored a couple of the towns I had been admiring along I-94, though I was to harried to sit down for a meal.  And as is probably typical outside of larger cities, the shops along the main streets were closed on Sunday afternoon.  I noticed The Albany Restaurant located along main street.  Its windows were adorned with handwritten pieces of paper advertising an eclectic mix of chow mein, fried catfish, and spaghetti.  I made a mental note to return.

This beautiful steeple is visible from the interstate and belongs to a Catholic church in Albany, MN.

Tomorrow evening, we’re going to explore Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair.  Then, we’re heading to Remer, MN for an epic, lake cabin adventure with Jake’s siblings and cousins.  I’m leaving the laptop at home, but will update early next week.  In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter.

Late night gyro at Soho Cafe

Soho Cafe
2532 Hennepin Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

What a week.  On Thursday evening, I joined friends over ice cream celebrate my friend’s passage to seminary in Chicago this fall.  We will all miss M, my former “partner-of-mischief/pranks” when we worked at our previous job.  I, like everyone else, wish her well on her journey towards ordination.

I tumbled into Sebastian Joe’s on Hennepin, running straight from a day of babysitting without having had dinner.  As a salty-preferenced person, ice cream did not satisfy my quench for dinner, so I searched for dinner on the way home.  I remembered hearing something about a late-night joint that served pizza and gyros so I drove south on Hennepin until I saw Soho Cafe.

A very pleasant man who may be the owner took my order for a gyro and side of tabouli for $10.  Gyro slices from a gyrocone heated by an electric spit were griddled and added to my sandwich and I was on my way home after about five minutes.

Upon opening my package, I found pita bread containing a generous portion of griddled meat, thin slices of white onion, diced tomato, and romaine lettuce alongside a small cup of yogurt sauce.  The gyro meat was firm and chewy and tasted like your typical gyro meat, for lack of a better description.  The romaine lettuce was fresh (although soggy), the tomato tasted ripe and fresh, and the yogurt sauce was thick and tasty.  I don’t mind soggy or warm romaine, but I do find the smell of warm iceburg lettuce nauseating.  I love raw onion, so I appreciated the thin slices of abundant onion.

All in all, a decent gyro, especially for being available at late hours.  It was not as delicious or expertly constructed as Gyropolis, but it also wasn’t the greasy and overfilled monstrosity I bought at Holy Land Deli this past summer.  Bigger is not always better, and for me, overloading greasy gyro meat between thin layers of pocket pita is not my vision of an ideal gyro.

The tabouli was springy and fresh.  It had a higher ratio of parsley to bulgher and was made with curly parsley lending it a stronger, more bitter flavor.  Again, not my favorite version of tabouli, but it scored above my expectations and provided a bright contrast to the heavier gyro.

I also recieved a soft roll seasoned with garlic butter which I enjoyed the next day.
I would certainly return to Soho Cafe if I found myself hungry in the Uptown area during the evening hours that most restaurants are closed.  

Frozen Tasty Chefs Gyro Kit from Holy Land Deli

Earlier this week, we assembled a Tasty Chefs brand, frozen gyro kit bought from The Holy Land Deli located in Midtown Global Market.

Jake’s work week is looking like it will add up to less than 70 hours and I wrote a three-page literature review in under 48 hours, which I didn’t hate or agonize over.  Also, unlike my last paper, I did not complete it 45-minutes before the deadline.  I believe these occasions called for frozen gyro kit self-medication.

I recall this gyro kit cost around $8.

The guts and glory.  Frozen five-pack of pita, gyro sauce, and “cooked sliced loaf.”

Mmmm. . . cooked sliced loaf.  This makes me giggle and remember when my old roommate and I compared school lunch experiences.  My former roommate grew up in a small town in Iowa and described a regular school lunch offering called “pork shape on a bun.”  She also mentioned sides of “butter sandwiches” made with a non-butter substance.

To re-cook this “cooked-sliced loaf,” I placed the unwrapped meat in a pan, added enough water to cover the bottom, along with a splash of olive oil, fresh cracked black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne.  Then, I let the whole pan simmer on medium high until thawed.  When the meat slices were thawed, I simmered them on a lower temperature to reduce the liquid and caramelize.

I wrapped the pita in foil and heated in the oven and defrosted the cucumber sauce.

To garnish, I served the gyros with fresh green pepper, lime wedges, and thinly sliced red onion.  Ideally, I would also include romaine lettuce.

And pictured above is an assembled gyro.  For a frozen kit, the gyros tasted quite good.  Especially with the added fresh vegetables.  The cucumber sauce looked a bit grainy when de-thawed and was full of interesting thickeners and emulsifiers but tasted better than it looks.  A nice substitute would be the thick garlic sauce you can buy from St. Paul Flatbread Co. or Holy Land Deli.

Gyropolis: On my stormy relationship with gyros

May 13, 2011
2325 W. 90th Street
Bloomington, MN 55431

I used to hate Gyros and I can thank summer Bible camp for that.

My sordid history regarding gyros
During the majority of my childhood summers, I attended a week-long, Christian Bible camp in Amery, Wisconsin.  As a special programming activity, one evening’s dinner was transformed into a foraging experience.  Our dinner was dissected into separate elements and we had to walk from station to station to accumulate elements of our meal.  We were forced to wander around the camp in search of our main entree at one station, soup at another, and so forth.  At each stop, we earned a stamp on our faux passport.

For my first few years at summer camp, I looked forward to this dining event when it was internationally themed.  The main entree station consisted of gyros filled with slimy, rectangular slices of mystery meat which I happily chased down with a churro.  I found the gyros to be edible and more compelling than normal summer camp options, but never had the desire to seek gyros, until recently.  One year, I was stunned when breakfast meant a single, pop tart-sized puck of ham/cheese/potato/egg on a plate.

As I grew older, I suspected budget cuts when our internationally themed, scavenger-hunt-for-dinner event was replaced by a mere scavenger-hunt-for-dinner.  It was a deflating moment when I discovered that gyros were replaced with hamburgers, rice with tater tots, and churros with those vile, strawberry-flavored ice cream cups attached to small wooden spoons.

Campers wandered around the property and endured long lines at each station, only to collect burgers and tots with a passport.

Flash forward

These days I like gyros.  In fact, I often crave them.  My favorite version is from Gyropolis, located in Bloomington.

Spicy Gyro, $6.35

Jake and I always order spicy gyros.  At Gyropolis, the meat is sliced from a rotisserie and placed in a fresh pita instead of sizzling on a griddle.  Even without griddle-time, the meat has crispy edges and a firm texture.  Next, fresh romaine and crisp slices of green pepper and red onion are carefully added.  Gyropolis avoids the soggy mess that arises from adding shredded iceberg lettuce and mealy tomatoes to freshly griddled gyro meat.  Am I alone in loathing the smell of warm, wilting iceberg lettuce?
A spicy, cucumber sauce lends some refreshing heat.  Some days it’s spicier than others.  This evening, we won the lottery and the sauce was extra spicy.

A gyro close-up

Fiery Pizza, 10″ hand-tossed crust, $7.95
Jake’s favorite item at Gyropolis is this Fiery Pizza.  According to the menu, the pizza can be made on a 6″ pita or a 10″ hand-tossed crust.  The crust is chewy instead of crispy, which doesn’t bother us.  Jake orders this pizza with gyro meat rather than spicy chicken.  In addition to meat, the pizza consists of spicy pizza sauce, onions, green peppers, mozzarella, jalapenos, and oregano.  Personally, I find the pizza sauce to be delicious, on the sweeter side, and lacking heat. However, more heat comes from the jalapenos.

Small Greek salad, $2.45

Gyropolis makes a fresh Greek salad with iceburg and romaine lettuces, black olives, feta cheese, red onions, green peppers, cucumber, tomato and the obligatory pepperocini.  I have yet to find a piece of lettuce with a browned edge and always eat the pepperocini first.

Besides the freshness of the vegetables, I appreciate the light salad dressing.  I am repulsed by ooey-gooey, artificially emulsified Greek dressings that reek of oregano.  This version is light, tasting of no more than oil, vinegar, and a few herbs.

Seasoned Fries, $2.05
If you order a side of french fries, they are always freshly fried.  For a couple dollars you can order a reasonably portion of fries that are sprinkled with a seasoning salt mix containing a red spice that appears to be deceptively spicy.  These fries hit the spot alongside a gyro but aren’t particularly memorable or crave-worthy on their own.

Gyropolis has helped me to re-define gyros.  My only criticism is that, as far as I can tell, you must buy everything a la carte.  So far, I haven’t found a better quality alternative and am happy to pay the slightly higher cost.  If you have tasted a better gyro I would love to learn more about your recommendation.

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