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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Narrowing in on a different kind of Greek life in Madison

This lamb and beef delight comes from Parthenon Gyros in Madison. The Greek-inspired restaurant has been applauded for its serene rooftop seating.[/media-credit]

Gyro making at Parthenon



Meat slicing at Parthenon

What is it with gyros? Maybe it’s their cosmopolitan appeal. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe they’re just plain tasty. Whatever the reason, the oft-mispronounced (it’s a food, people, not a movement you do with your hips) Greek staple has become wildly popular with Americans in the past half-century.

In Madison, the list of restaurants sporting the pita/lamb/yogurt sauce combo on their menu goes on and on. Madison eaters have a reputation for fearlessness when it comes to delving into foreign cuisine. Why we chose to adopt gyros and exclude other typical Greek fare like keftedakia and pastitsio, I don’t know.

Perhaps it has something to do with the familiarity of a sandwich-like structure. The pita, shaved meat and tzatziki sauce of the gyro closely parallel the bun, burger patty and ketchup of the American hamburger. The result is a dish just unconventional enough to intrigue, accessibly encased in a non-threatening sandwich format.

For this week’s Tasty Thursday, I took a brief foray into the world of Madison’s gyros. Who’s cheap? Who’s authentic? Who’s greasy? Check it out:

Athens Gyros – “Tender slices of our select, band-carved lamb and beef, broiled on a vertical skewer with imported mediterranean spices and piled onto a warm pita bread, smothered with onions, tomatoes and our special homemade tzatziki sauce.”

Delivery time: 30 minutes.

Price: $5.95 plus tax.

Ace-in-the-hole: full-flavored meat and textured pita.

Fun fact: Athens Gyros was founded by Gus Kyriakopoulos, former long-time manager of Parthenon Gyros on State Street. It began as an extension of the Shell Gas Station on Highway M in Waunakee and since has broken off to become its own restaurant in other locations.

I was initially skeptical of Athens when I saw they had French fries on the menu. My fears were unfounded, however. The sandwich was pleasingly warm when it arrived at my door.

Although the pita was a bit soggy from the grease, the interior was dry, chewy and spongy. The meat (beef and lamb) on this gyro was the best quality out of all the gyros I tried – succulent and infused with pepper, salt and Greek oregano.

The tzatziki sauce was appropriately lumpy but a little on the thin side, with sparse cucumbers, but it had a good, solid flavor and was a nice chilly foil to the hot sandwich. The tomatoes were good and surprisingly full of flavor, but there were too few of them (only four halves).

There was LOTS of food – it filled an entire large to-go box.

Overall: the presentation was a bit greasy and overwhelming (read: Americanized) but the full-flavored meat and textured, delicious pita bread rescued this one in the end. Solid three out of five stars. Not bad for a restaurant that started up as a gas station subsidy.

Parthenon Gyros – “Our famous homemade signature sandwich is made from premium lamb and beef and fresh spices, then flame-broiled on a rotisserie grill, sliced and piled high on warm grilled pita (flat bread), topped with fresh onions, sprinkled parsley, ripe tomatoes, and tzatziki, our delicious homemade cucumber garlic sauce.”

Prep time: less than a minute.

Price: $7.00 Ace-in-the-hole: rooftop seating, the fact that you can see the conical wheel of meat cooking.

Fun Fact: The real Parthenon was a temple to the Greek goddess Athena.

Service was fast (really fast) and friendly.

The first thing I noticed about this gyro was the amount of tomatoes. There were way more tomatoes than on my Athens gyro, yet they were watery and did not have much flavor – same goes for onions.

The pita was slightly crispy on top, which wasn’t altogether unpleasing if you take into account the soft, spongy middle, but it had a slight burnt flavor. Both the meat (lamb and beef again) and the sauce had a stronger taste (ambiguously defined on their website as a “variety of spices”), but it was a singular, sharp garlic taste, not subtle or multi-layered at all. The meat was also grainier and less tender than Athens.

While the dining room was nothing to rave about (dingy, depressing fluorescent lighting), the rooftop was phenomenal. If you shut your eyes to the buses on State Street and the neon-blue light of the Parthenon sign, you could imagine for just a moment that you were sitting on top of the real Parthenon.

Overall: Weak food presentation, even more McDonaldized than Athens. The dining room was creepily lit and depressing, but the open-air seating area up top saved the day, giving those of us that lack the money and pretension to eat at Fresno the chance to eat on a roof. Note: Fries were good. But fries are not Greek, and have nothing to do with gyros.

Amy’s Caf? – “A Greek specialty blend of beef and lamb, served on a toasted pita with onions, tomatoes, and our yogurt sauce.”

Prep time: five minutes

Price: $4.95 (on special)

Ace-in-the-hole: Warm, inviting atmosphere; full menu.

At Amy’s you order from a vast menu on a black board above the counter. The wait was negligibly long – no complaints there (unless I want to invoke suspicion on the less-preparation-time-equals-less-quality rule). The service was prompt and polite, though the guy behind the counter seemed exasperated. Also, they charge for water cups. What gives?

This gyro was slightly smaller than the ones served to me by Parthenon and Athens, but still more than enough for one person. There was only one slice of tomato on this one. A good slice of tomato, but still only one. It wasn’t enough to be able to incorporate it into every bite.

The onions, by contrast, sprouted up uninhibited, forcing their way into every mouthful. I like onions, but even this was a bit too much for me. The yogurt sauce was cool and creamy, but lacked the deep flavor of Parthenon’s.

The meat had a good flavor and wasn’t as greasy as the stuff from Athens or Parthenon. However, there was too much of it so it overpowered the tomato, onion and tzatziki.

This is a fairly mediocre assessment, and I admit it was probably because of the horrible specter that cast a pall over my entire meal – the pita. Where have you gone, my warm, soft, bready friend? You were replaced by a cheap imitation that rendered a distasteful experience overall.

Overall: Gyros were the worst of the bunch so far, and service was so-so. Atmosphere was idyllic Madtown hole-in-the-wall bar. So basically, go there with a group of only slightly hungry friends (or really hungry enemies) if you want to perch on a barstool and look like a savvy college kid. But don’t eat the gyros and for the love of all things round, baked and sacred…do NOT eat the pitas! And stay away from those water cups.

In the end: Athens wins! Get over your gas station prejudices, get out there (or pick up your phone), and chow down on that quality gyro, Badger Herald readers.

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– Winterize your body with these 7 power foods from The Province.

– Citypages interviews Mary O’Regan about food trends and not starving yourself for fashion.

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