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Gyro is a meat you don’t want to know too much about. It’s damn tasty, and I dig having it two, maybe three, times a year. Other than that, let the meat have its mystery.

As many gyro sandwiches and platters as I’ve had, I can’t recall one distinguishing itself, which is another way of saying it all tends to taste the same regardless of the restaurant that serves it. I’ll pay closer attention this week. Because this is Food Fight’s initial foray into Greek cuisine, I thought it prudent to include chicken souvlaki and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves).

Our two contestants are: Neptune Grill in Gulfport and Athenian Garden on 4th Street in St. Pete.

Ας το κάνουμε. (Let’s do this.)

NEPTUNE GRILL

A cold front was moving in and the wind blew off the bay as we walked down Shore Boulevard to the restaurant. Neptune Grill looked kind of charming from the outside, but the interior was a plain large space, overly lit, with basic wooden tables and booths and some Greek imagery on the walls.

It was 6:30 on Tuesday and business was slow. Our table of four had plenty of elbow room. Contemporary pop and rock played from a tinny sound system, but at a low volume that didn’t impede conversation. Bonnie and I ordered the Gyro Platter ($22.99) which included a Greek salad and fries (which we subbed for potato salad), and added a single skewer of Chicken Souvlaki ($6.99). Dolmades ($11.99) was our starter. I got a Mythos beer ($6), a Greek brand.

Appearance

A nicely put-together platter. The strips of gyro meat looked like … strips of gyro meat. The chicken skewer seemed a bit meager. The potato salad came separately, in a small bowl. A mini-brick of feta cheese looked imposing — but I knew I could shove it onto Bonnie’s plate.

The Dolmades luxuriated in a pool of avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce.

Texture and Taste

My biggest complaint with gyro meat is when it’s over-grilled. This was not. It’d been several months since I’d had any and, man, was it tasty.

My biggest complaint with chicken souvlaki is when its chalky. This was not. It was moist, if not quite juicy, pleasantly spiced, and free of the sinewy texture that can plague grilled chicken. The bird lost some of its luster as it cooled. I should’ve hit it first, not let it sit.

The salad was solid, with a dressing that was fine but could’ve used some more tang. And it would’ve been better off on its own plate.

The dolmades were different than the ones I’ve had previously. The grape leaves were more rugged, in a good way. I had to cut them with a knife. The sauce was impressive, silky and not overly tart. There was a substantial pool of it that cried out for more dolmades. Our foursome had one each. I wanted to say, “Hey, the columnist only gets one?” But I didn’t.

ATHENIAN GARDEN

David Downing

I’ve been inside this Athenian Garden many times, mostly for takeout, so know the interior well. It’s smaller and more colorful than Neptune Grill, and definitely homier.

There was a decided nip in the air, when my friend David met me at 6:45 on Wednesday. We sat at a four-top in the middle of the dining room. Greek music played at a low volume, so was just mildly annoying.

I ordered the Combo Platter ($25.95) with gyro and chicken souvlaki, Dolmades ($14.95) and a Greek beer called Fix ($5.75). I knew there would be plenty of food to split with David.

Appearance

Athenian Garden’s platter comes with a bed of yellow rice, topped grilled onions and peppers. It includes a small Greek salad, which was not all that small. Our server brought it after the Dolmades appetizer, which included some salad. (It’s not often you get salad before the salad course.)

Texture and Taste

Whereas Neptune Grill served its gyro in hearty slices, Athenian Garden’s were like ribbons — thinner and more grilled, with an outer char in places.

Two hefty slabs of breast-meat chicken were chalky and tough, rendering them all but inedible. I took a few bites for due diligence sake.

The rice — flavorful, with large kernels — was a propitious match for the meats. Likewise, the peppers and onions added welcome dimensions of taste and texture.

The salad came with a scoop of potato salad in the middle, a local custom that I’ve always appreciated.

The Greek dressing had just the right level of bite, and the feta was crumbled, allowing me to add bits of it on the fork.

The grape leaves in the Dolmades were tender enough to fork cut. The sauce was smooth but ultimately anodyne.

And the Winner of the Grappling Greek Platters Is …

Neptune Grill.

A complicated call. Neptune scored better in the key categories — gyro, chicken, and, marginally, the dolmades. However, Athenian Garden’s inclusion of rice, peppers and onions made for far better accompaniments than the bowl of potato salad at Neptune. Plus AG’s salad was superior, and there was way more of it. Oh, and I slightly preferred the Fix beer to the Mythos.

Then there was also the matter of sheer volume, especially as pertains to meal-splitters. Athenian Garden’s platter and app (total cost: $40.90) were plenty enough for two adult-male homo sapiens, whereas after Bonnie and I finished our Neptune Grill meal ($41.97), I could’ve eaten more. The St. Pete restaurant served more of everything than the one in Gulfport — including, unfortunately, chicken.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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