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King Gyros
** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$
Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette

Gyro meal delights in taste burst

They have the same name, basically the same menu, and that name has been a fixture in Fort Wayne for decades.

But what you might not know about the two King Gyros locations is that they are different. The restaurant on Jefferson Boulevard downtown has been the one I frequent, and until just recently, I had never been to the one on Goshen Avenue.

And when I finally went, I found many of the same things that made me fall in love with the brand.

See my photo gallery

The Goshen location is truly a family business. It was opened in a former Penguin Point in 1991 by Steve and Leia Sakellariou, who used to own the Jefferson store. Their children, Nick and Ashley, also work there.

My first impression was that the Goshen store badly needs a facelift. The restaurant's exterior was given a facelift in 2011, but it is still stuck in 1968 – when the Penguin Point was built – inside with bright orange vinyl-covered booths, Formica tables and paneling everywhere. Leia knows it is past its prime but said some customers sort of like the time-warp experience of eating there. She also said they plan to refurbish the inside soon, after kitchen upgrades are done.

Orders are taken at a window, and customers pick them up at another window when their numbers are called. The menu board above the counter has the usual Greek specialties but also features barbecue, burgers, fish, hot dogs and even homemade tamales.

First things first: The gyros at King Gyros are, indeed, worthy of signature status. I'd pay the extra 75 cents for an extra pita because the gyros are stuffed with tons of meat, tomatoes, thinly sliced white onions and tzatziki sauce.

If you don't get the extra pita to turn your one gyro into two, you may want to ask for the sauce on the side and take off a few of those onions or just give up on eating it with your hands and use a fork.

The meat – Kronos brand, one of the best out there, from what I gather – is what really makes these gyros so good. It is crispy and caramelized in places, moist and tender in other spots and has just the right amount of spices.

The Greek salad was also fantastic, given it comes from a fast-food place. Fresh, crispy iceberg lettuce is piled high with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives and pepperoncinis, and the chunky Greek house dressing packs a punch of zesty oregano, garlic and lemon flavor. King Gyros is really generous with the olives and feta, and the only downside was that the hot-house tomatoes were a little waxy and bland.

The Greek chicken, however, fell short. It had an orange hue to it from what I assumed was paprika but lacked basic seasoning. It came with a side of oregano-spiked butter, but I didn't pick up any lemon in that butter. The meat was cooked nicely and was juicy, but it just came off bland.

The barbecued ribs proved to be a better choice from the grill. These ribs were as old-school as the décor. They are oven-steamed and then finished on the grill, where they pick up some char and get sauced.

And that sauce, which Leia said her family has been making from scratch since the '80s, was great. It is bright orange, with just a little spice, but also had a nice touch of sweetness and a little vinegar tang. It wasn't a frou-frou sauce and was similar to sauces I have had at other old-school rib joints, but it was tasty. The ribs followed suit. They fell off the bone, were not at all dry and were simply solid grilled ribs.

The soups I tried were both decent, with Leia's Northern bean slightly topping the chili. The chili is available daily, along with a soup of the day, which is on a set schedule Monday through Thursday. On Friday, however, the soup du jour is "whatever Mom wants to make," Ashley told me on the Friday night I tried that Northern bean.

Leia says the bean is a traditional Greek fasolada soup. It is made with chopped tomatoes, spices, onions and carrots and is 100 percent vegan. She also makes a vegan lentil soup occasionally. The tomato base and onions gave the al dente beans a lot of flavor, and the soup was perfectly seasoned.

The chili also had chopped tomatoes, two kinds of beans – light and dark – and was a little spicy, but I found the serving size to be a bit small for the price ($3.39), which was significantly more than the daily offering ($2.25).

I also loved the homemade tamale, which, I was surprised to find out, was made on site. It was stuffed with stringy, saucy, flavorful pork and had nearly as much meat as it did corn masa.

I assumed they were made by a Mexican cook for the restaurant like so many other tamales at similar places. Leia said they started making the tamales to offer their Hispanic customers a taste of home and had to go through some trial and error to get it right.

"No matter what we try when we cook them – bricks on the bottom of the pan or terra cotta pots – we still can't keep from burning the bottom layer of them," she said.

Other than a few burnt ones that have to be thrown out, King Gyros did get the tamales right, and I will not hesitate to order them again.

If soup or tamales aren't your thing for a side dish, get the coleslaw. Another homemade recipe, it was simple but perfect. It had fresh chopped strips of green and white cabbage and carrots in a slightly creamy dressing that was perfectly applied so it wasn't too dry or soupy. The level of sweetness was spot-on, and the fresh crunch was wonderful.

Leia said they make the slaw every other day or so to ensure it stays fresh, because nobody wants limp slaw.

The attention the Sakellariou family gives to putting out quality products – from homemade soups to fresh slaw to from-scratch tamales – is what makes King Gyros worth visiting. It isn't fancy; like Leia says, "This is the place for a poor man's night out."

And what poor man doesn't need a night out every now and then, even if it means going through a bit of a time warp in the process?

Restaurant: King Gyros

Address: 814 Goshen Ave.

Phone: 482-8882

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Greek-American

Handicapped accessible: Yes, but not restrooms

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Gyro ($4.99), Greek salad ($4.29 small; $5.89 large), ribs ($10.99 half slab; $17.99 full), Greek chicken ($7.49), tamale ($2.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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