Anyone who’s been to a ballpark knows where gyros come from: a big beefy cone that rotates on a vertical spit around a red heat lamp and gets sliced off into long, suspiciously unmarbled slices. In America we think it’s Greek, while Europeans consider it a Turkish delight called döner kebab.
I never saw anything resembling gyros in my admittedly brief and hash-blurred spin around the Greek Islands (hey, I was eighteen), just a lot of souvlaki stalls. None of the Greek cookbooks in the Oakland Public Library mentioned them, either, or provided any evidence that peasants have been patting ground meat into big cylinders to roast over olive-wood fires since Aristotle’s time.
I asked the managers and owners of all three of the above restaurants what gyros actually is. None of them could identify its origins, only its ubiquity. “Gyros pretty much originally is Greek,” says Sam Vassiliou, a Cypriot. “But it has spread throughout the Middle East. It’s actually the best-selling sandwich in Europe.”
Deme Katsulis, marketing manager for Kronos Products in Chicago, explained that gyros is Greek for “turning around.” As in gyroscope, only it’s pronounced yee-rohs. Her company mixes four parts ground beef to one part ground lamb, and adds garlic, oregano, and other Greek spices “to get that gyros flavor profile.” By comparison, Gyros Corner’s artisan-crafted gyro cones, if such a phrase is appropriate, are made with equal parts halal beef and lamb. Whatever its provenance, the raw meat mix is pressed in a variety of roastable or sliceable shapes, including Kronos’ Gyrokone (with a TM, of course).
According to both Vassiliou and the company’s Web site, Kronos Products became the first American mass-producer of gyros in 1975, and now sells its “kones” through food distributors to food-court stands and ballparks everywhere. All of its American competitors are also based in Chicago, which Katsulis calls the “gyros capital of the world.”
When I pressed her on whether the Gyrokone resembles anything authentically Greek, she finally conceded, “It’s more whole-muscle meat over [in Greece]. It may be pressed together, but not as processed and pressed as American gyros. But it does turn around on a machine.”