Gyro Pizza at Italian Express: Love the Concept, Less Excited About the Reality

"Virtually every inch of the pie had at least one layer of gyro meat on it."

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Slice–Serious Eats contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog.

Italian Express

2307 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-761-7700; halalribs.com
Getting There: #49 Western Bus to Devon, walk less than a block east
Pizza Style: Thin-crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Excellent gyros as a topping, but the rest of the components are subpar
Notes: Pan pizza also available; other locations in Glendale Heights and Bolingbrook
Price: Medium thin-crust, two topping, $16.25

After reading the recent New York Times article on gyros, I knew I had to pick up my efforts to find gyro pizza. Despite the fact that virtually all of the country's gyros are made in the Chicago area, it is difficult to find a pizzeria that offers the delectable lamb/beef spit-roasted treat as a topping. There are a couple of places that sell gyros and sell pizza but do not offer gyros as a topping. (And those places offer food best eaten by those too drunk to taste.)

After some searching, I found a place in the decidedly non-Greek area of Devon Avenue. Devon is actually an 11-mile long street, but the name Devon is commonly used to refer to the neighborhood surrounding a mile-long stretch of the street from Ridge to California, which serves as the center of Chicago's South Asian community.

The street's most famous resident is the original Patel Brothers, which was founded there in 1974 at a time when Indian immigrants began moving in and Jews began moving out. Since then, the Indian community has grown and has been joined by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as well as a variety of other immigrant groups. The result is an incredibly diverse community with a particularly high concentration of Muslims. With Muslim consumers comes a demand for halal meat and gyros. Commonly known as döner kebabs in many Muslim countries, these gyros are a product often prepared in accordance with Sharia law. And so it was that I ended up at Italian Express,, a Pakistani-owned Italian restaurant that offers gyro pizza.

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Before I got there, I knew that Italian Express offered gyros as a topping, but I had no idea what to expect the pizza to look like; part of me assumed that there would be tzatziki instead of tomato sauce, which had me wondering if it would be just like getting an open-faced gyro sandwich baked in an oven.

It turned out there was no tzatziki to be found and that every pizza at Italian Express has mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce just like most pizzerias. In addition to the gyros, there were a couple other toppings that caught my eye and are attributable to the the restaurant's halal standards: beef pepperoni and beef sausage. I considered getting one of those on half the pizza, but instead opted for a pie with half regular gyros and half spicy gyros, with onions on the entire thing.

20090729ItalianExpressSide2.jpgWhen the pie came out, the first thing I noticed was the massive amount of gyros on top. The gyros were cut in the same thickness as is typical when ordered on their own and virtually every inch of the pie had at least one layer of gyro meat on it. Italian express was almost as generous with onions. I took a bite and my first thought was that it was excellent. My second thought was that the gyros were excellent but that I didn't really taste anything else.

The crust was not very good; it lacked flavor, was fairly thick and incredibly dense. The tastelessness and quantity of the crust proved to be an insurmountable barrier for my really enjoying the pizza. The sauce, which may have come from a can, was well-seasoned but a bit too pasty. The sauce also suffered in comparison to the strongly flavored gyros. The mozzarella was fine, but like the sauce and crust, was overpowered by the delicious meat.

A wetter, fresher sauce and some feta cheese would have helped the pizza a lot, both in terms of taste and balance. In its present form, the gyros pizza at Italian Express is a fun celebration of cross-cultural culinary creativity, but it's not a particularly good pizza.

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