Take a good, hard look at these two gyros.
The top one comes from Zorba’s Cafe on Dupont Circle. Its soft squishy meat, however, was processed in Chicago at Kronos Foods, which produces those giant cones of compressed beef and lamb found at almost every Greek deli across the country. Even with a flock of food chemists, you’d be hard-pressed to know this gyro was prepared in D.C., as opposed to any one of a thousand other cities where a Kronos cone spins on a spit.
With the benefit of Kronos’ mass production and the basic economies of scale, Zorba’s can sells its gyro for a recession-friendly $7.95.
Now compare that to the gyro made at Yamas Mediterranean Grill in Bethesda, which is the focus of this week’s Young & Hungry column. Yamas’ chef Mediha Keler prepares each gyro rotisserie by hand, with fresh meat from naturally raised animals. It’s painstaking work:
Every morning, Yamas chef Mediha Keler arrives early to prepare the gyro rotisseries. She’ll take the slices of beef and lamb that have been marinating in lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, cilantro, tarragon, mint, garlic, and other spices and start building her towers. She makes two to three rotisseries a day, each between 20 and 25 pounds. It takes about an hour for Keler to carefully layer one slice of meat after another until the tower is complete. She will then start butchering, trimming, and slicing the cuts of beef and lamb for the marinade; the slices will marinate at least overnight, and often longer, to help break down the tough muscles.
So given all the extra labor and all the costs of natural ingredients, you’d expect the gyro at Yamas to be more expensive, right? You’d be wrong. It sells for $6.95. (Plus an additional 60 cents to stuff fries into the pita, if desired.)
This simple comparison helps underscore why some of the best “cheap” food is sold in the suburbs, even in a Bethesda neighborhood typically viewed as the paragon of conspicuous (high-dollar) consumption: Restaurateurs can find deals that give them the flexibility to charge lower prices.