November 17, 2011

Gyro Shack (Review)

Wife was having a bad day week, and to be perfectly honest, so was I.  Boy has reached the age where he believes it possible to talk his way out of homework, and despite being a nine year old with a high school reading level, he ended up with a "D" in reading due to lazy and incomplete work.  The "stern parent talk" that happened at the end of the semester seemed to do the trick for a week or two, but he was right back at it, hiding away bits of his worm journal so he could claim to be done with his assignments and play the Wii.  Sunday started with the revelation that he had several weeks of work due on Monday, and each successive day revealed more hidden homework.  Only time will tell if the punishments leveled-from a missed meeting of the chess club to the first spanking handed out in over a year--will make an impact on him, but it was clearly weighing on us. 

It was with this crushing wall of negativity as a backdrop that I decided to relinquish my pocket money and take Wife out to eat.  I'd won a whopping ten dollars on a bet, and while I had intended to save it to feed my obsession, I felt I had to do something to perk Wife (and myself) up. 

Luckily, we are in the same neighborhood as a Gyro Shack (5602 W State St., Boise ID 83703 (208) 853-2684).  Another Gyro Shack sits in a shopping center on Cole and Overland, next to the second-run movie theater and a gaming store.  It has been there as long as I can remember, but the one down the road from me is of a more recent vintage, taking over the space once owned by failed coffee shop The Human Bean.  It is just a little drive-through and there is no dining space available, not even picnic benches outside, although the grassy berms that separate the restaurant from State Street's heavy traffic might be a nice place to picnic with your food during warmer months. 

We pulled up to the speaker at around ten-thirty in the morning, the only customers.  Wife didn't have much of a break (just long enough to take me home, really, which was another mark on the stress tally) so we were glad not to have to deal with a long wait.  In fact, while the place never seems deserted, I have never actually seen it busy.  Another factor beneficial to my wife's time crunch, but perhaps disappointing to some diners is that there aren't a lot of options on the menu; I think the coffee place may have had more.  I am notoriously slow at deciding when I am given lots of options, and that wasn't a problem at the Gyro Shack-while there are a total of eighteen sandwiches listed on their board, they are really three different types (regular gyro, chicken gyro, something-something bacon ranch) served a variety of ways.  While I could see this bothering parents with a car load of picky children, or a large group looking for variety, I figure most people who pull up to something called Gyro Shack are looking for a gyro, so I gave the limited menu a pass.

Wife went for the original gyro, and paid the extra two dollars to make it a combo.  For those not familiar with gyro, the traditional Greek sandwich is lamb served on pita bread, with tomato, onion, and tzaziki (cucumber and garlic yogurt) sauce.   Gyro Shack offers the option to make the gyro "deluxe" by adding feta cheese, but neither of us felt like paying a dollar more for one ingredient.  The combo came with her choice of Greek salad (cucumber, onion, tomato, kalmata olives and feta, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper), some boring bagged chips, or hummus and pita and a drink.  She took the hummus, and I made her get me a Diet Coke for the drink since she was going to waste the drink option on water.  While the original looked tempting, it isn't much of a review if the diners eat the same thing so I decided upon the spicy chicken, which had most of the same toppings as the regular gyro, but in addition to replacing lamb with chicken added sambal oelek chili paste (similar to the Vietnamese chili garlic paste I use on my ramen, other than the emphasis on garlic I don't know if there is any difference but nationality) for kick.  Seeing as I only had my ten and the change in Wife's purse, I skipped adding a combo, but I did feel obligated to add a piece of baklava from the tiny desert menu.   Total damage: $10.95

We got back to the house and spread our feast out onto the table.  Everything looked and smelled wonderful, and after I took a few pictures it was time to dig in.  I've had a Gyro Shack gyro before, but I talked Wife into letting me try hers to refresh my memory.  The pita was warm and soft, and while I can't imagine they make their own pitas (especially with the appropriately named shack being roughly twice the size of my bedroom closet,) they weren't the cheap pitas from the deli some places use.  These were fluffy, but with a nice, crisp bite on the outside.  Inside of the pita, the flavors meshed beautifully.  The tzaziki was just right, with hints of parsley and lemon, flavorful but not overpowering.  The vegetables were fresh and added texture to the otherwise soft food.  Finally, the meat was exactly what I hoped for.  Gyro Shack adds beef to its lamb (gyro meat is not sliced directly from any particular cut of lamb, as I once imagined, but actually an especially dense meatloaf,) and I don't know if that is typical, but the flavor here was bold, and stood apart from both the sauce and the other condiments.  The meat was also moist, which was a plus; since pitas are particularly hearty, dry gyro meat can lead to quite an unappetizing mouthful. 

My cellphone camera doesn't do it justice.
Her side-the pita and hummus-was just about what you would expect from pita and hummus.  Wife was bummed because sometimes they serve the hummus warm, and other times it is cold, and today was a cold day.  There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for the variation-it is my hypothesis that the times she has gotten it warm were merely accidents based on where the Styrofoam shell was sitting in the kitchen while the gyro was assembled-but she has developed a taste for warm hummus, and if we go back we may just have to start requesting it.  Minor gripe aside, it was quite flavorful, and the whole thing was dusted with the most wonderful paprika.  I am used to the grocery store variant of the spice, and if you've had it you know that it is mostly tasteless, a coloring agent seemingly used in American cuisine only to brighten up the appearance of deviled eggs on a platter. This paprika couldn't be farther from the jarred stuff from the store.  It was deep red, more like a chili powder in color, and it's smell was pungent.  Even between the hummus itself and the pita bread it stood out, announcing its presence in every bite.  The whole thing was topped off with a pair of kalmata olives, and I was sad that I didn't scrounge up enough change to get some of my own.
The spicy chicken gyro delivered more on the spicy than the chicken.
While good, my spicy chicken gyro took a clear backseat to its traditional cousin.  Part of that was my fault, for the cardinal sin of assumption.  Having been often to the other Mediterranean fast food place in town, Mazzah, when I read the words "chicken gyro," I instantly assumed it was just grilled chicken with spices, thrown on a pita, and that the use of gyro was just to give consistant feel to the menu.  Instead, chicken was given the same treatment as a lamb gyro, formed into a loaf and slow roasted on a spit before slicing.  This may not have bothered me as much if I hadn't gotten the spicy variant of gyro, but the sambal paste and tzaziki completely overtook the chicken; the sandwich was still quite good, but I could have gotten it without meat entirely and enjoyed it about as much; it's presence added a little something, but not much.

The only thing that was actually disappointing was the dessert.  I love baklava.  Every year the Greek Orthodox Church in Boise has a Greek food festival, a weekend full of gyros and lamb kabobs and baklava and other delicious food.  Gyro Shack's gyro matches those served at the event, and for considerably less money, but the same thing can't be said of the baklava.  It contains all the right ingredients: puff pastry, walnuts, a sweet syrup-the only thing it lacks is execution.  Rather than the many, many layers the little old Greek ladies (and men) at the festival-or even Mazzah, for that matter-make, the nuts in this dessert seemed concentrated in one spot, allowing the pastry to be dry, and the syrup was missing an element I couldn't place.  It was still fine, and if you are headed to the Gyro Shack for its fantastic gyros and really want baklava, I wouldn't blame you for ordering it, but it doesn't have that special something I wanted. 

All in all, I was quite satisfied by the Gyro Shack.  This small Boise based drive-through is very affordable, has good-almost great, even-food and quick (if nondescript) service, everything I could hope for, and I see myself coming back time and time again, perhaps even soon.  The bad taste in my mouth from Bad Boy Burgers has been cleansed, and I am excited to see where my car will take me next.   The Gyro Shack #2 on Urbanspoon

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