I can’t say I’ve ever actually had a gyro. Not that I have anything against them, I just don’t recall ever having one.
Growing up in the lovely, rural, slightly inbred backwaters of western Kentucky, there weren’t a lot of Greek people, and few if any of their traditions or inventions, like gyros, urns, or western civilization. Unlike Greece though, western Kentucky has evolved a little since the Bronze Age, adopting certain modern innovations like electricity and regular bathing.
Somewhere along the way, in ancient times, the Greeks invented the gyro, a type of bread-wrapped working man’s meal containing meat, produce, cheese and yogurt.
In some places in the U.S. these things are very popular. In other places they are heavily Americanized. In a few other places, like my first hometown, Cadiz Ky., they exist only in a slightly modified form, eschewing the lamb and goat products in favor of bovine byproducts, and replacing the arrogant, snooty, yogurt based sauce with a more basic tomato-pepper sauce. Instead of feta, real American pasteurized, processed cheese product is used, as God intended. Oh yeah, it’s not even called a gyro in Cadiz, it’s called a ‘taco’.
Go Gyro Go is owned by Nick and Linda Cowlin. Nick’s grandparents are Greek, they hail from the small island of Zakynthos (pronounced Zxzkntthhss). Linda is described on their web page as “first generation Greek-American” and is by far the prettier of the two, Greek or not.
The truck, outfitted by Nick himself, has been on the road since mid-2011.
It showed up at my workplace right on time, with a three person crew. I immediately recognized Linda from the website; I didn’t really pay much attention to the two dudes. I’m sure they were quite handsome and worked pretty hard.
Linda manned the window, taking orders and sweating a lot, though not the least bit offensively. This heat wave must be brutal on food truck workers, crammed in a hot, oven’ed and grilled motor coach in near triple digit temperatures. Seeing the crew sweat like that made me glad I went to college and established a cushy indoor career.
The paint job on the truck was blue on white, like the Greek flag. The lettering was faux-Greek, using a heavily angular script just like that used on every fraternity house across the U.S.
The aroma rising from the truck was inviting. Inside, the spiced meat was being freshly grilled. On the window counter sat a jug of fresh lemonade and a jar of pickled peppers.
The line was quite long when I got there, twelve or more people lined up. None of my immediate co-workers though. Rumor had it that someone among them had discovered a lunch-provided meeting of some kind and most of the folks in my village of cubicles hunted it down. Business meetings are usually terribly tedious, bordering on mental menstruation, brain cells actually dying and sloughing off. Add a free lunch to a meeting though and all bets are off. I was busy though, I needed to get back to my cube to move some more big, ugly upgrade files around from server to server. (not as easy as it sounds)
I was curious to hear how everyone would pronounce the word ‘gyro’, I’ve heard it several ways. Hi-ro, gy-ro, guy-ro, even he-ro. I listened closely to those in front of me and ended up ordering it like they did “A classic, please.”
The classic gyro was billed as: “A blend of beef, lamb and spices, served in warm, grilled pita bread with fresh tomato, red onion, feta cheese, parsley and tzatziki sauce.”
The classic cost $7.50 and came with regular, generic potato chips. I didn’t add a drink, though the lemonade looked pretty tempting. It only took about five minutes from order to delivery. The truck had a second window for pick-ups, a good idea, it kept Linda free to take more orders without having to share a cramped window.
They wrapped the gyro in a foil diaper and put that into a Styrofoam box. I marched right back up to the cube, without delay.
I picked at the dangling meat, thinly sliced and a little dry looking. It wasn’t dry to the taste though. The spice mix they used made it taste a little like jerky, though much more tender. The veggies were fresh, especially the tomatoes. It’s been a lousy garden year here and good looking tomatoes like these have been rare.
The pita wrapper was thicker than a soft taco, and very soft and pliable. The most prominent aspect of the wrap however, was the sauce.
Tzatzki looks like sour cream, but it isn’t. Traditionally tzatzki (pronounced ‘Tzzttzzkky’) is made from strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil and dill. It is nearly always served cold, like sour cream.
The taste is also kind of like sour cream but with a not-unpleasant added tartness. Atop all that was a sprinkling of feta cheese, which in taste is a little like mild blue cheese. Feta is a protected blend in the Euro zone since 2002. According to the Encyclopedia Galactica, or as it is more commonly known, Wikipedia: ". . .only those cheeses produced in a traditional way in some areas of Greece (mainland and the island of Lesbos), and made from sheep milk, or from a mixture of sheep and goats’ milk (up to 30%) of the same area, may bear the name "feta"
And this matters a lot since it afforded me the opportunity to write the word ‘Lesbos’ for the seventh time today.
The meat was very tender, the sauce, not as strong or bitter as I’d imagined it might be. There was certainly a tartness in the sauce and cheese, and a peppery taste from the meat, but not too much of any of it. I wolfed it down messily and even picked at the crumbs in the box. For my taste there was, due to the messiness, not the taste, a little too much sauce. And the sauce was all located at the top so it was a little uneven in the eating. One bite would be all sauce and cheese, the next meat and tomatoes. It was certainly pretty laid out like that, but I think next time I’ll stir it all up before eating it.
Just as I was finishing, some of the folks from the meeting came back, Doug included. He had a Styrofoam box, identical to the one my gyro came in. No one else had such a box.
“I thought you were going to have lunch at the meeting.” I said.
“I did, two rounds.” He answered, settling into his chair.
“So this is your third lunch today?”
“Sort of, it’s my third lunch in the past hour.”
Doug, usually accused as being the fastest eating mammal on the planet, also eats a lot. He’s a big boy and burns lots of calories coming up with really stupid jokes all day. I have to give him credit this time though, he didn’t eat his classic gyro very fast at all.
I have to say I was quite pleased with my gyro. It was spicy, but not too much so, it introduced me to a new cultural experience. I’m not a big fan of living food, like yogurt, but with this meal, I got it. It made sense, tastes and textures blended well, and it was overall, quite pleasing indeed. Doug liked it as well, even as a third lunch. The price was dead-on, maintaining the below-ten-dollar arbitrary bar. There' was a tip jar in the truck's window, it was filling up pretty fast, a sure indicator of appropriately priced meals.
Go Gyro Go’s interpretation of the gyro was quite satisfying. I can’t tell you how it compares universally, since I’m from Kentucky and grew up with only the Mexican version of the wrapped meal, but this thing was for me, really, really good, surprisingly so. They got it all right, Α to Ω.