Lamb has always been good to me, and I, in return, strive to return that respect. Necks, loins, legs … nothing bad about lamb cooked well. I recently encountered a great lamb sandwich at Helen Greek Food and Wine, and whoever cooked the animal showed it a lot of respect.
The Helen team call it Hand Packed Gyro — I am not sure I have ever eaten a machine-packed one — but no matter how it is assembled, it’s a fine lunch. The pita bread is robust and warm and moist, and the tzatziki is bold and balanced (acidity and saltiness in harmony), though I did feel the need to ask for more. You’ve got tomato and red onion, all in good proportion, and it comes with French fries specked with oregano. (I wish my fries had possessed a bit more crunch, but I have become accustomed to less-than-ideal fries lately.)
And the lamb? It’s from Black Hill Ranch … and wait. It’s not lamb. Instead, it’s pork. And damn good pork. (If you are unfamiliar with Black Hill, take some time to change that situation, because Felix Florez and his team are doing great things.) I ordered the gyro without reading the menu’s fine print, thinking that lamb would be used, and when I took the first bite of the sandwich I was in no way disappointed.
There was some great fat in the meat, and a wonderful bouquet approaching smokiness. One memorable bite included what was likely the perfect amounts of onion, tzatziki, and meat, and it was the highlight of my lunch. I’ve eaten gyros by the scores and scores over the years, in Beirut and Frankfurt and Stockholm and Abi Dhabi and many points in between, and Helen’s version easily stands with the best of them. (Often I find myself discarding the pita and eating everything else, but the pita served at Helen is in no danger of being left behind.)
I’ve dined at Helen Greek Food and Wine on several occasions, and it’s been a hit-and-miss affair. Chewy, tough octopus on one plate, pasta for the ages on another. And while I think $28 for a Greek salad is a bit much, the little restaurant in Rice Village is always packed and boasts a wine list that would make Zorba a very happy man. I’ll be back for the gyro, and to give the octopus another try.