April 8, 2022 | OPINION | By Hank Bedingfield
The Mediterranean diet is famed for its fresh ingredients and numerous health benefits. Across the region, and especially in the Aegean, seasonal menus feature a rotation of local produce, meat, and dairy — favorites like Feta cheese, tomato, and cucumber have garnered international celebrity for the Greek Salad.
Yasouvlaki, a fast and frill-less portside taverna, offers something a little different to the island of Naxos, Greece. For those looking to enjoy the backside of Mediterranean fare, the not-too-healthy, tzatziki-slathered, fresh-fry, and fried-meat-stuffed Yasouvlaki Gyros are cheap and criminally delicious.
While the religious indulgence of slaughtered lambs and ceremonial sacrifice live only in the collective memory of most Greeks, some argue that its holy carnage lives on at Yasouvlaki.
After a curt exchange of three Euros from prospective diner to surly matron of the register, the order is placed. Eager, balding men, in the steam of the grill and heat of the ever-rotating spit, cut through clouds of cigarette smoke armed with a sort of specialized electric razor. The machine buzzes and slices, and from the carcass-like hunks of pork and chicken, golden-brown crisps fall hot and ready-to-eat, making room for the next meat layer to sear. Cue the salivation.
With tongs that may as well be extensions of their arms, the unsmiling workers sling pita — hot with grill marks — from the flat top to the preparation area. Next, they slather the pita with a merciless heap of tzatziki, add onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, slap fresh slices of a pork-chicken mix — discovered on local suggestion, though chicken and pork are also offered separately — and a fistful or two of freshly-fried potato strips.
The amalgamation is the Greek equivalent to the all-holy American fast-food burger, or its ambitious, upstarting cousin the fried chicken sandwich. The gyro is swaddled in Yasouvlaki-branded paper and passed along with a steeled tenderness to the eagerly-waiting patron (me), who — at this point — is a salivating beast, waiting to feel with drool stringing from mouth agape, by smell, sight, and soon taste rendered smooth-brained by carnal thoughts.
At the first bite, it becomes clear as an epiphany why Yasouvlaki is a sanctuary for the taxi drivers, construction workers, and blue-collar heroes of Naxos, happily enjoying a break from the Mamma-Mia fantasy-seeking tourists who’ve invaded their ports like new age pirates to plunder the bounties of culture, tradition, and environment — all together engulfed — leaving only a string of cheugy tavernas and grotesque seaside hotels in their wake. Good, cheap food has a way of mustering only the authentic and the insiders.
The rest of this review is more of a love letter. While Yasouvlaki’s menu is rounded out with the slew of Greek classics — stuffed peppers and fresh calamari — its gyro will win hearts and make widows. Devouring one of these sandwiches is a chorus of stimulation and dance of seduction to the point of climax. The crunch of freshly toasted pita, onions, and carcinogen-blessed edges of pork and chicken is the stuff of culinary myth. Mixed with the fresh burst of well-grown tomato and the creamy tang of tzatziki, the most sinful glutton and insatiable hedon would have trouble asking for more.
Washing down a gyro, or two, with the local lager of choice — a Mythos or a MAMOE — and enjoying the bustle of boats, sailing, fishing, and ferrying people in and out, one could hardly ask for a better afternoon.
For anyone lucky enough to spend a block abroad in the rumor-enshrined courses of the fondly-regarded Lisa Hughes and Barry — guzzling intellectual demands and bacchanal ill-willed desires of debauchery like twin liquids — Yasouvaki will become your lifeblood.