by Mike Sula
The gyro is one of the more dubious Greek contributions to western civilization. I'm not talking about the glistening, hand-stacked layers of beef and lamb roasting on vertical spits and shaved onto warm pita—that was actually a Turkish innovation (see doner kebab). Those have been around forever. I'm talking about the greasy, salty, breadcrumb-extended, molded mystery meat cones hawked by thousands of platinum blonde temptresses with something more on their minds than cheap sandwiches.
Although they were popularized by a handful of Greek-owned Chicago companies, the real father of the mass-produced gyro cone was a Jewish entrepreneur from Milwaukee named John Garlic. Yep, it's true.
Since then it's been relatively difficult to find a gyro made from real meat. You could go to a half dozen or so Middle Eastern joints for shawerma—but those are usually beef only. And if you're feeling porky, there's always Mexican (or Polish) al pastor.
But now there's an excellent option in Wicker Park at Covo Gyro Market, from the folks who own the "eco-friendly" minichain Prasino.
Similarly, Covo's big selling point isn't just that they're using real meat, but all-natural lamb, beef, chicken and pork, marinated and hand-stacked on a half dozen vertical broilers. The sandwiches are constructed before your very eyes: the pita is toasted while the meat's shaved from the spindle and dressed with your choice of tzatziki or a spicy house sauce, and about a dozen condiments: onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, etc. Compared to your standard fast-food gyro it's a moderately sized munch for $7—but the quality is apparent. The lamb and beef has the ideal amalgamation of crispy charred bits and juicy interior muscle that you get from al pastor or shawerma joints with high turnover. The pork is treated with equal love, marinated in apple cider and brown sugar. (I have yet to sample the chicken, which is seasoned in lemon juice and something mysterious called "essence.")
The rotating, mostly vegetarian sides are pretty well done too: roasted eggplant, hummus, Israeli couscous, etc, any one of them a good gamble at $3 per scoop. There's Goose Island beer and couples of wines on tap—including a crisp, white Greek one on my visit—and the thick-cut, double-fried French fries are worth ordering on their own.
It's located right up the street from the superb regional Greek restaurant Taxim. Let's see . . . how about a good Greek pastry shop next?
Covo Gyro Market, 1482 N. Milwaukee, 312-626-2660