Sunday, May 4, 2008

Goya the Greek (Zorba's Souvlaki Plus, 29-05 23rd Avenue)

In the realm of Greek takeout places in Astoria, Zorba's, in many ways, stands at the other end of the spectrum from Ditmars Gyro Place. Rather than tiled walls and harsh lighting, there's exposed brick (much like Ukus) and an almost genteel outdoor seating area. At the Gyro Place, the TV typically plays foreign soccer matches or Fox News; Zorba's TV was tuned to the Greek equivalent of MTV. The Gyro Place tends to have surly waiters; Zorba's (on our visit, at least) had a jovial waitress. There was even a couple at Zorba's who appeared to be on a date.

But the chief difference is embodied in their names; the Gyro Place highlights gyro meat turning on spits behind the counter; Zorba's Souvlaki Plus gives top billing to its grilled skewers of lamb, chicken and pork. Not that you can't get souvlaki at the former or gyros at the latter; it's just that at the Gyro Palace you won't find lamb souvlaki, for instance. At Zorba's you won't be able to choose from among several different rotating meats.

Admittedly, the casual consumer of Greek fast food wouldn't notice the difference, but when you have committed yourself as we have to eating at all of the myriad gyro restaurants in the neighborhood, you train yourself to spot small differences.

As befit the name, we both ordered lamb souvlaki sandwiches, which were wrapped in fluffy authentic pitas. Zorba's had hummus on its menu -- something you don't often see at Greek places -- so we made the unusual request of having it added to one of our sandwiches. How unusual? We saw one of the kitchen staff smuggle in a few cans of Goya Garbanzo beans shortly after our order was hung. (This made us wonder why we don't make our own hummus, considering this place was whipping it up in two minutes just to fill our order.)

Lamb souvlaki is not for everyone; it can be sinewy at times and takes sharp teeth to enjoy comfortably. Otherwise you end up with a hunk of meat in your mouth that is too large to chew. Softer meats are a safer choice for those unwilling to risk the chance of having to make an unseemly expectoration into a napkin. But the grilled lamb repays the courageous with a succulence lacking in the other choices, and Zorba's does the lamb like it should be done.

Price: No more expensive than any other souvlaki joint. Under $10.
Will we go again? When hungry and on 23rd Avenue, happily. Otherwise, we'll go to one of the four gyro places within the two-block radius of All Astoria Eats HQ.

No comments: