Deep Fried Chicago: Central Gyros
There's something exhilarating about reporting in on the newest restaurants: you get to experience the signature dish everyone's talking about, the up and coming chef's swift and steep ascent, and the back of the mind thought that the venture's firecracker hype could burn out as quickly as it was lit. It's all very high drama stuff. But I take solace in the older places, those that have been quietly putting out the same food for years, long after trendiness and word of mouth have passed on by.
Central Gyros in the far western neighborhood of Cragin is one of those places. Save for some fever love on LTHForum as of late, people don't say much about this family Greek restaurant. But like most places that fly under the radar, Central Gyros is worth a look. Though I'll leave dispatch of the namesake dish itself to abler hands, their fried offerings are well within my enthused purview.
I'm a latecomer to Saganaki ($6.99), but consider me decidedly here to stay. Lightly breaded melty cheese lit tableside and smeared on seeded bread—what's not to love? The version at The Parthenon may be the original, but the take at Central Gyros blows it out of the water. Each comes with the requisite half-hearted "Opa!" (to be fair, it's been 11 a.m. both times I've ordered it), but where the former featured a sputtering, blank slate slab of mild cheese, the latter arrived to the table with an aggressive sizzle and a strong aroma reminiscent of Swiss. This assertiveness carried through in flavor, with a strong, appealing aftertaste. From now on, when I order fried cheese, I want to be able to taste it—two orders in, and I already have strong convictions.
If there is one fried dish from Central Gyros you may have heard about, it is the Fried Eggplant ($6.25). The thick, half moon slices are flash fried crisp but remain somehow greaseless. Their meaty flavor is fine on its own, but a dab of included Garlic Sauce makes all the difference. Like a Greek hummus, the garlic and mashed potato sauce adds a light bite and smooths out all the edges. Rather than dismissing the sad looking cucumber, olive, and tomato wedge garnish, add a thin slice of each for an even more balanced mouthful.
The Fried Greek Sausage Sandwich ($5.90) is exactly what it sounds like: a deep fried, cased-link sausage wrapped in a pita. It comes dressed with the standard Greek-American gyro accoutrements of white onion, sour cream-based tzatziki, and thick tomato wedge. Its simplicity is no slight, the sausage is snappy from its time in the fryer, the garnishes are crunchy and creamy, and the griddled pita is pillowy. Everything is elevated by a squeeze of lemon and a swipe of the aforementioned Garlic Sauce.
There's much to be said (especially in my line of work) of keeping up with the latest food trends, fads, and openings. But sometimes you just want a quiet, sunny corner table where the waitress keeps your water glass ever-full. And if the food is as good as what they're serving at Central Gyros, then that's a type of irrelevance I could get used to.