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Dispatch From Chicago: Hunting For A Real Deal Gyro

My liver is limping. A five-day-long trip to Chicago threw so much meat at me I'm still in recovery, eating a strict diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Trust me I'm not complaining. While my body may be upset with me, my heart (at least the spiritual one) is filled to the brim with an overwhelming sensation of warmth and satisfaction.

The object of my affection? The Parthenon's Gyro (314 S. Halsted St.). I ordered one Friday after walking two miles across town on an empty stomach. It wasn't just a ravenous hunger that fueled my desire to pummel the entire sandwich in less than seven seconds. It was all the work that went into the meal.

When the plate came to my table I grabbed a piece of meat from the inside of the sandwich and was initially disappointed. I was hoping for slices of whole beef and lamb, but my gyro was stuffed with protein that had been pushed through a meat grinder. Then I took a bite and the flavors were amazing and rich with loads of herbs and spices. It tasted nothing like the processed meat cones that dominate the rest of the country's gyro scene. It smelled like freshly roasting meat and the herbs were vibrant and alive .

Three seconds later, when I was about halfway done, I pulled a large sliver of lamb meat and fat from the center of the sandwich. This chunk was obviously not ground up, so I made a quick mental note, and three seconds later, the entire gyro was gone.

After paying my check I walked up to Yanna, an older woman shaped like a pear, who was working the the front door. Yanna looked just like a character from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As we talked I watched two lambs and three chickens spin on spits just over her shoulder behind the bar. I did my best to pay attention while she told me about the gyro.

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Yanna said her gyro is made right there, with 80 percent ground beef, 20 percent lamb and a blend of seasonings I knew better than to ask for. I asked her about the hunk of solid, fatty lamb meat: Did she use a coarse grind? "No," she said as I eyed the lambs again. Their flesh glistened and bubbled as they turned. "As we stack the cones, we add a layer of lamb fat every few inches," she told me, patting her full hips. "How do you think I maintain my figure?"

Yanna and I talked gyros a while longer and on the way out the door she asked if I was planning on coming to Greek Fest. I wasn't initially, but the vision of those spinning lambs, the promise of ouzo and an opportunity to enjoy another gyro were an overwhelming sell. I told her I'd see her tomorrow.

I never did talk to Yanna again. I'd spent the first part of my day at a Cubs game swilling Budweisers and by the time I found her at Greek Fest, she looked like she was having about as much fun as me. I did see the gyros though, spinning like slow-motion meat ballerinas next to amber, glowing heating elements. They were brown and charred in some places, pink in others and stratified with opaque layers of fat.

Sliced into a warm, soft pita and topped with yogurt as thick as sour cream, the true Chicago gyro is one of the world's very best sandwiches. If they were available in more cities, we could all look like Yanna. And Yanna looked like a very happy lady.

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