Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
I swear, my life just gets stranger and stranger by the second. Just last Friday, I received a phone call from the casting folks for Transformers 4, which is going to start filming here in Chicago—and it's official, I'm going to be an extra. What's even better? My sister got called back, too. I know, I know, being an extra is going to be boring, and filming days drag out forever. But this whole scenario has the potential to be hilarious. I hope they feed us terrible food so I can tell you all about it.
And another oddball thing that happened on my way to lunch today: I saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. on State Street. He's here to promote something involving tennis, I think. Wait. Not tennis. Cars? Something like that. After signing some autographs, he performed a burnout—you know, that thing where a driver ruins their tires by making the rubber burn like crazy and then the air gets all stinky. I got some terrific photos, but since Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not in fact a sandwich, I probably shouldn't post them.
GRK Greek Kitchen is yet another lunch spot in the Loop that's adopted the efficient Chipotle model, where you order a format of food (in this case a wrap, pita, salad, or plate), choose a protein or filling, and then you pick condiments and toppings. You know the monkey drill. I wondered how I could miss a Greek lunch restaurant like GRK, until the manager told me they'd originally been called Med Kitchen and they rebranded to a newer and shinier version.
The dolmades ($2.75 for 4) are stuffed grape leaves (in case you haven't had them), and at GRK Greek Kitchen they're stuffed with a blend of rice, onion, olive oil, mint, and dill. They're also dressed with a lemon sauce, resulting in tart bites of grape leaves and rice. The rice is cooked to a point where it's quite soft, so there isn't much chew in each mouthful.
Unfortunately, the spanakopita ($4.50) doesn't seem to do it for me. The phyllo dough is soggy all the way through (I prefer mine with a flaky top), and it ends up being a floppy spinach pastry. It also has a bitter flavor that's distracting, and overall, I'd skip it.
The Greek salad ($6.25) doesn't bring any surprises; it's your usual blend of romaine lettuce, tomatoes cucumbers, kalamata olives, red onions, pepperoncinis, and feta. There's nothing particularly outstanding about it in terms of flavor, but the vegetables are fresh and crisp. The Greek vinaigrette is almost all oil, so you may want to use it sparingly or else you'll end up with oil-doused vegetables. Oil-doused Dennis, on the other hand, is exceedingly desirable. Wait, what?
There are four spits in the back, and in my experience, it can be difficult to get moist meat if the spit's gone too long without carving, as the heat dries out the exterior of the meat cone pretty quick. The rotisserie chicken plate ($7.50) that I received unfortunately suffered that exact problem. It's seasoned well, with a lemony oregano flavor, but dry chicken is hard to overlook. The hummus, if you so choose it, is a touch on the watery side, and the cucumber and tomato salad isn't dressed with anything acidic, so despite the fresh moist crunch, there isn't much flavor. And the orzo is overcooked; the pasta barely retains its shape and ends up being mushy.
The gyro pita ($6.50) is standard compressed gyro meat carved off the loaf on the rotisserie. I have a soft spot for gyros, and it definitely hits the spot if you've got a craving. Unfortunately, my favorite sexy gyro models are nowhere to be found in the restaurant. Nothing says sexy like jamming compressed gyro loaf into your piehole. Nothing, you hear me? Nothing!
While the French fries in the Greek fries ($2.99) are soggy and greasy, the feta and oregano topped spud splinters are delicious anyway. The feta in this case is soft, rather than being dry and crumbly, and spritzed with the lemon wedge on the side, the Greek fries are bumped to another level.
I've noticed that a lot of these Chipotle-style quick-serve restaurants play it safe when it comes to the food. Flavors and execution tend to be sacrificed for the sake of rapid-fire turnover, and GRK Greek Kitchen falls prey to that unfortunate scenario where you end up with convenience over satisfaction. But deep inside my heart, I wonder what Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks about this subject.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.