Life has become very grim indeed when the idea of a gyro doesn’t make you smile.
The famous Greek sandwich is a fast-food favorite of ground, seasoned beef and lamb meat packed on a skewer and cooked on a rotisserie. Gýro (pronounced YEE-ro) is Greek for “turn.”
The chef shaves gyro meat off the cone, which exposes more meat to be slowly roasted. The shaved meat is put in a warm, pliant pita, topped with lettuce, tomato and onion and served with a spiced yogurt sauce called tzatziki.
While gyros are often made of the same ingredients, there are differences between restaurants in how the sandwiches are served. At ZamZam Mediterranean Grill & Hookah, 3913 N. MacArthur Blvd., the meat is thickly cut, giving its gyros a substantial quality and chewy texture.
A gyro wrap ($5.99; add a side of fries for $1.79) is not a snack; it’s a capital M meal that will quickly silence the rumbling of the hungriest stomach. The warm pita has enough tensile strength to hold in the contents but begins to weaken when the juice of the meat and vegetables starts soaking into the bread. Do not despair! This is nature’s way of lowering the gyro’s defenses so we can eat it while it’s still warm.
If that challenge seems too bold to handle on an empty stomach, warm up your chewing mechanism with ZamZam’s delightful mesabbaha appetizer ($4.99).
Hummus makes a wonderful appetizer, but mesabbaha (sometimes spelled musabaha) takes that creamy blend of chickpeas and tahini a step further with the addition of chunky smashed chickpeas, crushed red pepper sauce and olive oil. The texture reminds me of a slightly creamier rustic guacamole.
Mesabbaha is served with sliced, toasted pita halves that are a perfect conduit for moving the mild dip from bowl to mouth.
Based on the number of options available at ZamZam, dipping seems integral to Mediterranean cuisine. In addition to hummus and mesabbaha, the restaurant serves baba ganoush (tahini and roasted eggplant dip), foul (a dip made from tahini, fava beans and chickpeas) and labne (sour Greek yogurt and olive oil dip) for $4.99 each.
If you do not dig red meat, ZamZam still has plenty of options, including the tasty chicken shawarma wrap ($5.99).
Shawarma is like a slightly more rustic gyro. Seasoned chicken breast meat is piled on a skewer and cooked on a rotisserie. When the meat on the outside cooks, the chef shaves it off and puts it on a pita with pickled cucumber, garlic and tahini.
I adore shawarma, and ZamZam’s version is good, if a bit dry. That’s why the tahini sauce is such a welcome addition. Tahini is toasted, ground sesame seeds blended with oil. The creamy sauce has a slightly bitter taste, which provides a nice counterbalance to the spiced meat.
The sauce makes another appearance in the aptly named tahini skillet ($9.99). A kufta kebab patty is covered in potato slices and placed in a small pool of tahini before it is baked.
Kufta kebabs are usually seasoned ground beef cooked on skewers, but the baking process is actually ideal for the meat. Where kufta can sometimes become too dry and chewy on a skewer, in the oven, it soaks up the tahini, staying tender and flavorful.
The potatoes have a buttery quality, and their added starch helps stabilize the dish. The skillet is served with toasted pita bread, which I recommend dipping in the sauce.
The spice of the kufta leaches into the sauce, countering the mild bitterness. It’s a symphony of textures and flavors. Like many great dishes, it’s easy to eat and fun to ponder.
I was not as impressed with ZamZam’s grilled fish dinner ($13.99), which was cooked well but lacked flavor. The rice and salad were fine, but when hunting for spice in the fish, I was stumped. The fish is marinated and grilled, with evidence of seasoning on the tilapia, but that’s where the trail went cold. It’s a good dish for those who are counting calories or shy away from bold spices, but I likely won’t choose it again.
Those looking for a more substantial meal might turn to the chicken shawarma dinner ($10.99), which provides a pile of succulent meat with garlic sauce, an oil-and-vinegar-dressed Greek salad, french fries and fresh pita bread.
The meat lovers sampler ($17.99), which isn’t kidding around, is a little more expensive but a lot more filling. Don’t get this if you sort of like meat. Served with a choice of two sides, including hummus, baba ganoush, rice and salad, this massive meal includes kufta, chicken, beef, lamb and gyro meat.
Though I’m not one for smoking, ZamZam offers another taste of Middle Eastern culture with a large hookah lounge. The sweet smell of the flavored smoke is evident in the main room but is barely noticeable from the nonsmoking portion of the restaurant.
If you’re in the mood, they serve up shisha tobacco flavors including double apple, watermelon and golden grape for $10.99-$16.99 at each two-person hookah. It’s a good place for conversation and relaxation. It’s fun, even from the nonsmoking area, to listen to the animated arguments between friends sharing a hookah.
The restaurant is quiet and well cared for. The food is tasty and pretty affordable.
I’ll keep going back for the gyros and the smile that spreads across my face whenever the staff at ZamZam delivers one to the table. You can find a smile there, too.
ZamZam Mediterranean Grill & Hookah
3913 N. MacArthur Blvd.
What works: The Mediterranean dips and tahini skillet are wonderful.
What needs work: Grilled fish is lacking flavor.
Tip: Enter from the north side if you want to skip the hookah lounge.
Print Headline: Zam good
Subhead: Pita the fool who doesn’t explore ZamZam Mediterranean Grill & Hookah’s excellent menu.