Just like the old country
Gyro's House does a kebob stand the right way: simple, cheap and good
Two swarthy guys wearing white jackets and paper hats greet you with heavy accents from behind the counter. A large menu in all caps hangs on the wall behind their heads. You might think you've stepped into the "Saturday Night Live" skit from the mid-'70s, with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi hypnotically chanting "cheesebugga, cheesebugga, cheesebugga."
But Gyro's House has nothing to do with cheeseburgers. This place is about kebab.
Walk through the doors of Gyro's House and you have entered another world — Turkey, in fact. I'm no stranger to that country (as a boy I lived in Ankara, where my father was a diplomat), and can verify that the kebob joints there — the Turkish equivalent of a fast food restaurant — all look precisely like Gyro's House. To wit: Two guys with paper hats. Spartan decor. Chairs pulled up to linoleum tabletops on a linoleum floor. Skewers of meat rotating in the window. A few prints of mountains that may or may not be Ararat hanging on the wall.
Proprietor Rossi Kolche is a Turk through and through — a bit formal and serious at first, but as soon as you say merhaba and teshekk¸r ederim, Turkish for hello and thank you, his face lights up. You might even find an extra dolma on the plate if you're lucky. Originally from Istanbul, Kolche has lived and worked throughout the world, and opened Gyro's House in 2003 after moving to the U.S. in 1988. He knows that the secret to good kebab is in the meat, which he serves in two basic ways: on a plate or inside bread. Tamam!
In bread it's called a gyro. But Gyro's House breaks tradition by wrapping the requisite meat, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and dribbled tahini in flat lavosh bread rather than stuffing it into a pita. The platter, meanwhile, offers a bit more of everything: a big serving of meat accompanied by a warm mini-loaf of bread, a heaping mound of rice with occasional peas and carrot bits, a yogurt sauce with dill and paprika on the side for dipping and drizzling, and a lettuce and tomato salad dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar.
Three out of our four kebab plates were served in that fashion, including the delicious lamb shish kebab ($9.95 platter/$7.25 sandwich). Thick cubes of lamb are marinated in olive oil with garlic and white pepper, then skewered with bell peppers and grilled. The lamb was served medium-well, and edges of the peppers were nicely charred. Like everything we sampled at Gyro's House, this dish was lightly seasoned in order to allow each ingredient to speak out. The exotic flavor of the lamb held center stage even when combined with the yogurt sauce and a fractional forkful of rice.
We also tried the grilled Kofte kebab ($9.95, available only as a platter) and the Adana kebab ($9.95 platter/$6.96 sandwich), which proved to be remarkably similar, distinguished only by their shapes. The Kofte is a grilled skewer of 1-inch ovals of ground lamb and beef combined with black and white pepper, oregano, paprika and cumin. The Adana — similarly cooked on a skewer and made of the exact same ingredients — is shaped into a long, flat patty. They both taste like a hamburger without the fixings, and the yogurt dip didn't add much splash. To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Kofte when I was 9 years old, either.
But even before taking this assignment I could tell you exactly what my favorite dish would be: the yummy Iskender kebab ($10.95, available only as a platter). It barely resembles the other entrees. Half the plate is heaped with sliced compressed lamb and beef atop squares of pita bread. The other half swims with a pool of creamy yogurt. A rich tomato sauce is poured over the meat, followed by drizzled melted butter, which all seeps down into the bread by the time it reaches your table. Grilled green bell pepper and tomato selectively adorn the plate. It's a huge portion of incredibly sumptuous glop, to be honest. Close your eyes and smell the scents, and envision yourself kneeling beside an open fire on one of Alexander's countless battlefields, noshing on this stuff in conquest. «ok g¸zel!
Gyro's House is a place for carnivores, but others will find something palatable on the menu. A couple token chicken kebabs and a sad little vegetarian sandwich skulk on the menu. I tried the meatless and nourishing falafel sandwich ($5.95), wrapped in lavosh bread with diced cucumber, tomato, and tahini, which tasted good, although I prefer a tad more crunch — the falafel balls were a bit underdone for my taste.
I also ordered a lamb and beef gyro sandwich ($6.95), which combines thin slices of meat, lettuce, cucumber, and tomato, with dribbled tahini wrapped in lavosh bread. It's nice and tidy, wrapped in aluminum foil like a burrito, and tastes good, but I confess missing pita bread.
The shepherd's salad ($6.95) is a refreshing mixture of chopped tomato, cucumber, onion and bell peppers dripping with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here's a tip: One order is plenty for two people as a starter. I also nibbled on a dolma plate ($4.95) while awaiting various entrees. These grape-leaf bundles are stuffed with rice, cumin, raisins and parsley, and drenched in olive oil.
Naturally, we couldn't resist a hearty slice of baklava cevizlu ($2.50), the ultra-rich, honey-drenched pastry filled with a sugary walnut paste. I've known it to be so syrupy that it practically hurts your teeth upon contact, but this batch was rich and buttery, while still extraordinarily sweet.
In fact, most of Gyro's House dishes were satisfying, filling, and easy on the pocketbook. I loved the whole scene too, with its authentic atmosphere and friendly staff. Less than $20 at Gyro's House can transport you halfway around the world and back. Now that is a deal.
212 Castro St., Mountain View
Sunday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-11 p.m.