A gyro made with pork, the way they do in Greece
Anyone who’s eaten at a Greek restaurant the past four decades or so is familiar with gyro meat. At least, the American concept of gyro meat: a spiced, finely ground blend of beef and lamb.
1229 Morena Blvd, San Diego
Except it’s not really the Greek. Apparently, the ubiquitous beef and lamb gyro rotisserie meat is an American invention, mass produced by companies based in the Midwest. In Greece, it turns out, gyros are usually made with chicken, or more commonly pork.
And that’s why I find myself ordering a pork gyro at Zgara Greek Grill, a tiny strip mall restaurant that opened in Bay Park two months ago. If the name sound familiar, you’ve probably lived in Pacific Beach within the past ten or twelve years. Zgara operated there until a couple years back, when the family who owns it sold the restaurant and moved out of town.
A strip storefront in Bay Park
However, they recently moved back, and picked back up where they left off, serving virtually the same menu from a counter shop on Morena Boulevard.
Part of Zgara’s charm is it doesn’t order processed foods from the Midwest, rather it makes food from scratch, using its own recipes. So when you order the gyro platter, there’s no beef or lamb in sight. It’s all pork ($14.75). And while Mexican al pastor was famously adapted from Lebanese rotisserie tradition, this Greek tradition of pork gyro much more closely resembles pork butt and shoulder carnitas.
A small, family owned counter shop returns to San Diego
Which isn’t to say eating the gyro sandwich ($8.75) corresponds to eating a carnitas taco, but there’s a similar joy to be found. One much better than the flat, earthy savor of the beef-lamb hybrid.
Dolmides, also known as dolma
Should you want beef and lamb at Zgara, you’ll find it in a ground meat kofte kabob, though you’ll do better to try the biftekia gemista ($15.75), a roll of ground beef with a melted cheese center.
By ordering a mix grill platter ($26.25), I was able to try both the gyro and biftekia, as well as a skewer of bacon-wrapped chicken, and loukaniko. You can see the linguistic connection between loukaniko and other nation’s sausages such as linguica and longanisa. This house-made Greek sausage is marinated in white wine and orange peel, producing a satisfying tang to go with beef, if not a combination of meats.
Bacon wrapped chicken, loukaniko sausage, and biftekia gemista (spiced ground beef with a cheesy center)
Including fluffy rice, fresh vegetables, and tender grilled pitas, the entire platter delivers on the promise of homemade Greek cuisine. Everything tastes better than what is now revealed to be a rather tired, Americanized substitute for Greek cuisine. Whatever you order at Zgara, be sure to start with the pork.