Gyros are one of those foods I allow myself maybe once a month. They’re just too delicious to be good for me.
Recently, after a decent work-out with trainer German (pronounced Herman) at FFC on Lake, I wandered over to Mickey’s and indulged, figuring I deserved it (though such a snack would likely nullify some benefits of my workout).
Last month, I’d had gyros in a combination platter at a local Greek restaurant and was rather let down: the meat could have been cut from the gyrating meat cone, but more likely it arrived at the restaurant frozen and pre-sliced: it was not crisp; it was a little soggy, as though its exterior had never met fire.
When you’re dealing with what is essentially sausage-without-casing, a combination of ground beef and lamb, oregano and breadcrumbs, getting a little caramelization on the crust is essential to mouth-feel and flavor. Getting the outside to caramelize requires direct contact between meat and heat.
There can be little doubt that spitted meat had been prepared in the Mediterranean (Greece specifically) for thousands of years. But it was Chicago entrepreneurs who developed a way to mass-produce the cones of meat that gyrate on the spit: gyros.
Who specifically brought this innovation to market, however, is a matter of some dispute about who actually invented the gyros as we know it. Many Chicagoans claim to have been the mother of this invention.
According to the New York Times, Chris Tomaras of Kronos Foods claims it was his idea, as does George Apostolou of Central Gyros Wholesale, and several others.
One thing is certain: Chicago remains the center of gyros production in the United States.
Before this local innovation, the seasoned and spitted meat was assembled in kitchens by hand, so it was not suitable for a mass market. You can still find few places that build their own gyros, and there are a number of Hispanic restaurants in Chicago that make their own tacos al pastor, a spitted meat shaped into a frustum, much like gyros but with different spicing.
The Mickey’s version of the gyros sandwich (a little under $5, which seems to be the going rate for most of these sandwiches, everywhere) is standard: sliced meat, creamy sauce, onion and tomato on a pita.
By the time I got to Mickey’s at 2PM on a Friday, the gyros had already been cooked on the rotating spit, and so the line cook reheated some on the grill.
I believe what I actually received at Mickey’s was a combination of beef-lamb and chicken gyros meat, but it was all nicely crisped and, though a hideous handful, quite tasty.
Some years ago, I was talking with the counterman (the intense guy who always takes orders), and he told me that Mickey’s had been the first place anywhere to serve chicken pita…and that, no doubt, is another debate.