1060 Old Country Rd., Plainview
SERVICE: Occupied with a flood of takeout orders, the counter staff is friendly but brisk
AMBIENCE: With an open kitchen and seating for about 20, the room is attractive but bare-bones.
ESSENTIALS: Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wheelchair accessible but tight. Online ordering and delivery available.
The plot has all the making of a Greek tragedy: The hero, revered in the country of his birth, strikes out to find his fortune abroad. But his new countrymen berate him, criticize his backward ways. To survive, he has no choice but to assimilate, adopting the worst attributes of his new home and betraying his heritage. He becomes a great success, but at what cost?
The name of the play: American Gyros
This is the drama playing out at Yiasou Yeeros, a modest Greek eat-in/take-out in Plainview’s Morton Village Shopping Center. “Yeeros” is the Greek pronunciation of gyros and Yiasou (an all-purpose greeting/farewell akin to ciao) is named in their honor.
A proper gyro starts with slices of seasoned meat that are stacked in a thick column that is then mounted onto a vertical spit. As it rotates in front of a heating element, the exterior develops a burnished crust. Periodically that crust is sliced off to fill sandwiches and platters, and, as the exposed meat continues to turn, it develops a new crust.
That’s how the gyros started off at Yiasou Yeeros, but from Day One there were complaints from customers who preferred the more familiar American gyro, a preformed column of ground mystery meat that is standard at Greek-American eateries. Stephanie Mantzoukas, who owns the business with her mother, Jenny Vangelatos, said that most of the gyro discontent came from takeout customers. “They didn’t travel well,” she said. “If you didn’t eat them right away, the meat dried out.” And so, in January, Yiasou’s chef was instructed to take his seasoned beef and lamb and feed it into the meat grinder.
Mantzoukas was “heartbroken” at the change, but takes comfort in knowing that the beef-lamb gyro is still homemade, and a “real” chicken gyro, made from slices of dark meat, continues to spin alongside it. The freshly carved bird is juicy and crisp, whether wrapped in a pita sandwich or served in a platter with cabbage salad and exceptional homemade French fries. And now Mantzoukas is considering adding a third gyro, made from seasoned pork shoulder (the most common gyro in Greece).
Yiasou may have lost the gyro battle, but it is winning the Greek restaurant war. The menu is not large, but most of the dishes evince a level of care and quality that is absent at other gyro joints. Among dips, standouts are tzatziki (made with Babylon’s own Nounós Creamery Greek yogurt) and the sweet, smoky eggplant dip, melintzanosalata. More high marks to the beef meatballs, seasoned with cumin and oregano, and the homemade loukaniko, an aromatic, orange-peel-scented pork sausage. Round, flaky, golden cheese pies began here as a special; customers wisely demanded that they join the regular lineup.
So many L.I. Greeks fall down on salad, serving up pink tomatoes and iceberg lettuce and leaving out the sine qua non of Greek cooking: good extra-virgin olive oil. Yiasou’s oil comes from Laconia in the Peloponnese and it elevates both the fine “prasini,” a refreshing toss of shredded romaine, dill, scallions and feta, and the lettuce-less “village” salad featuring ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, Kalamata olives and feta. Also recommended, roasted red and yellow beets topped with feta and toasted walnuts.
If you have a hankering for red meat and, like me, a moral objection to ground-meat gyro, go for the pork souvlaki, skewers of succulent shoulder. (The dry chicken souvlaki, alas, is made from white meat, and can’t compete.)
Yiasou’s spanakopita is filled with roughly chopped spinach and heavily laced with dill. The phyllo crust was too pale and, after it made the trip from Yiasou to my table, lost its crunch. Both issues could be remedied by a quick spell in a hot oven. But the elegant moussaka, a tight assemblage of tender, cinnamon-scented vegetables and beef, layered with roasted potatoes and béchamel, made the journey with flying colors. You’ll have your choice of fries, lemon potatoes or rice, which I have listed in order of preference — the fries are way out in front.
With a dining room dominated by an open kitchen and seating for about 20 people, Yiasou is clearly built for takeout. But despite the lack of amenities, it is raising the bar for Greek food on Long Island. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the pork gyro.