Second Helpings

Pete’s Gyros Place

There are two ends to every spectrum, including the spectrum of Greek restaurants, although in this case, neither end is necessarily better than the other. On one, there's Yanni's (see review) and places like Yanni's that attempt to present the best of Greek food culture in a comfortable environment; usually, these also have a bar. On the other end, there are joints like Pete's Gyros Place, and there are a million joints like Pete's Gyros Place in the big, wide world, probably ten short-order, greasy-spoon, quilted-aluminum souvlaki shacks and gyros huts for every one restaurant working the flaming saganaki gimmick or serving sublime, peasant-style roasted lamb. Though these diner-type spots (as typified after dark by Pete's Kitchen and exemplified in the daylight by Pete's Gyros) are somewhat rarer on this side of the Mississippi, back East they're a culinary benchmark. The stubby counter, grim short-order cook, twirling meat stick, blue awning and strange, grayish light on a rainy day at Pete's Gyros are all typical of that style. And the Greek-American Civic League might just as well write one menu and send it to all the Pete's and Tom's and Pano's and Olympic diners in the country, because their menus are all pretty much the same -- sold cheap and made fast. Pete's Gyros specializes in gyros -- shaved off the stick, wrapped in griddled pitas with onions and tomatoes and shot with a generous handful of crumbled feta. There are also burgers done on the grill, assembled with surprisingly fresh ingredients at any hour, and always served with bagged, frozen Sysco fries. The Greek salads are more or less just American salads plus olives and feta, and the souvlaki -- when paired with eggs, slivered potatoes crisped on the grill, watery coffee and a half-dozen cigarettes -- has always been my own personal breakfast of champions.