Some New Orleanians might think of Kenner as the far reaches of civilization and inching along I-10 certainly can break a well-balanced person's sanity, but Williams Boulevard is fast becoming a world market as far as food is concerned. If you need to buy sushi-grade tuna, Russian wine or queso fresco, this is your shopping strip. You can lunch out there on softshell crab po-boys, Szechuan shrimp, soba noodles, Indian dosas, Honduran sopa de caracol, and chiles rellenos -- all within a 1-mile stretch where you can also pawn your unnecessary engagement rings and apply for payday loans. Add taramasalata and shish kebabs to the shopping list, as Greece joined Kenner's multicultural food court last year when Mr. Gyros moved into the neighborhood from its longtime French Quarter home.
The white cinderblock building is marinated in supernatural shades of blue that only seem to exist in and around the Mediterranean. You enter by stepping onto the aquamarine fuzz that carpets the curbside patio, passing into a compact dining room with walls so blue you want to swim in them. The clear blue Ionian Sea surrounds the island of Corfu in one of many paintings, and blue lampshades direct light by which to read powder-blue menus. With a smattering of small, circular tables, a blue-and-white tile bar, and fast-paced Greek music played at a danceable volume, the space feels like a casual seaside eatery. One oft-played song, sounding like the Greek equivalent of a mariachi band, is particularly popular with servers who dance alone behind the bar and sway from hip to hip through the room.
Mr. Gyros offers less Grecian cuisine than gourmets might like -- no squid or stews, and only one grilled fish each day -- but really good Greek food that surpasses the expectations of a restaurant with a one-dish name. It's also one of few places where you can taste of the Greek winemaking traditions that pre-date the writings of Homer. Retsina, an ancient wine treated with pine-tree resin, is more intriguing than it is pleasant to drink, but it warms up to food. For an easier sip, order the garlic-friendly house wines from Boutari, a label that is to Greece what Gallo is to California.
The kitchen uses garlic liberally and well, an unusual and welcome combination. If you order no appetizers, your first bites will be of almost-white romaine lettuce, cucumber, raw onion and Greek olives, all drenched in a tart-creamy dressing whose lingering raw garlic fumes escort you through the rest of your meal. You may opt instead for a cup of tomato-rich beef and vegetable soup, or lemony egg soup with bits of floury, housemade noodles, but skipping the salad would be tragic. The vegetarian plate hums with raw garlic as well; in dollops of coarse-textured, cumin-scented hummus; in a blend of roasted eggplant, feta cheese and garlic; in dry cylinders of falafel containing enough pepper to instigate a coughing fit; in buttery spinach-feta pie; and in the sour cream jaziki sauce shot through with garlic and cucumber that overpowers and enriches everything it touches.
Failing to order an appetizer, however, means you'll miss the high point of entertainment at Mr. Gyros -- not to mention the most exotic dish, saganaki. As Mr. Gyro himself (Peter Hamezopoulos) dumped ouzo onto a slab of egg-battered kefalotiri cheese, our server touched a lighter to its platter and then leaned away to protect his well-coifed head from the ensuing foot-high flames. "Opa!" they both yelled, later translating the traditional saganaki call to the "Yahoo!" of Texas cowboys. Nuances of anise and fresh lemon juice brighten the warm, salty cheese, which you grab at with pita triangles.
The namesake thick-sliced gyro meat (minced lamb and beef molded with garlic and spices around a spit and roasted) wrapped into pocket-less pita bread with jaziki sauce is worth a drive from the city; order a Romanian salad on the side: a crisp, clean toss of romaine, celery, onion, oil and vinegar. The rubberier gyro burger is not worth the drive. Cubes of marinated pork called souvlaki also have a strange, bouncy consistency that jaziki sauce only partially masks.
Besides the gyro sandwich, Grecian comfort foods make the best entrees. Moussaka is a neat stack of roasted eggplant, zucchini, potato and cinnamon-seasoned ground beef with a rich, souffle-like crown. Pastichio, commonly called Greek lasagna, is a wedge of fat macaroni noodles and cinnamon-seasoned ground beef covered with the same, golden brown cream cheese souffle. Long-cooked onions and tomatoes pave the top of each dish with jammy goodness.
I don't appreciate the Greek coffee, which is thick as oil and mineral-tasting like soil, but it's difficult to imagine better baklava than Mr. Gyros' pliant, honey-soaked phyllo leaves layered around a mixture of pulverized cinnamon and walnuts. Kataifi, like honey-softened shredded wheat spun into a tube, is filled instead with ground almonds and cloves. The brilliance of these honey-sweetened pastries is that they temper but don't kill the savory aftertastes of herbaceous lamb, cinnamon beef and raw garlic. It's a nearly Olympian conquest in a restaurant that's far from Greece but securely allied to Kenner's growing international community.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Don't be surprised if MR. GYROS himself, Peter Hamezopoulos, gets in on the act with the servers at his Greek restaurant now located in Kenner.