- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
- Saganaki is cheese flamed with ouzo.
You can get grape leaves at Mr. Gyros, and hummus and the namesake gyro, but for goodness sake please don't ask for shawarma — that's a Middle Eastern dish. Mr. Gyros is Greek, and even though a lot of restaurants blur eastern Mediterranean cuisines into one big pita-based society, the differences between them are worth exploring. It's Greek flavors that make Mr. Gyros worth a visit.
So instead of shawarma, order souvlaki, which features shiny, slightly greasy, griddle-marked cubes of pork loin strewn with parsley. Given the name over the door, the gyro here had better be good — and it is. The lamb/beef blend has the right mix of crusty edge and peppery, soft texture. But it's the thick, puffy pita bread and the soup bowl-size side of lemony, creamy tzatziki sauce that really sets it off and makes it a Greek gyro.
Mr. Gyros has been in business for many years at a number of different addresses. Its current location in the corner of a Metairie strip mall is much larger and nicer than the one-time fast food joint the restaurant occupied a few blocks away just a year ago, and it remains a very casual spot.
As always, the dish to start with is saganaki, an egg-battered hunk of either mozzarella or salty and more interesting kasseri cheese. Just before service, it's doused with ouzo and set alight to the inevitable but undeniably infectious cheer of "Opa!" around the room. A squeeze of lemon extinguishes the flame, leaving a golden loaf scented with a boozy anise flavor and citric tartness. Cut the flamed edge and cheese oozes out to sizzle on the hot metal plate.
The best entrees are hearty Greek comfort food. A cap of broiled bechamel tops the moussaka's stack of eggplant, potato and zucchini, layered with cinnamon-scented beef, and pastichio, a lasagna-like construction of penne pasta, gets a similar cheesy seal.
Beyond a solid, garlicky Greek salad and a few appetizers, vegetarians are out of luck here. The beige, mealy, flat disks said to be falafel lacked everything that makes falafel good. I also wish the kitchen could get away from predictable items. Surely we're ready for a Greek seafood dish beyond fried calamari and the occasional straightforward fish special.
There's Greek folk music on the sound system and Greek travel posters on the walls, but to get a true sense of this restaurant's Greekness visit the bar. A happy hour vibe pervades all evening as proprietor George Papapanagiotou and his regulars quaff Athenian-brand beers and Greek wines, like the dark, round Nemea, the refreshing white Santorini or the odd retsina, a white wine that's been produced for more than 2,000 years, with its backbeat of pine resin. High-intensity conversations ensue, often in Greek punctuated with "Facebook," "Saints" and other words beyond translation. Then someone in the dining room orders saganaki and, in unison, everyone yells "Opa!"