I was in Liverpool, England, about a decade and a half ago and was drinking pints with my friend Rob at the Jacaranda, a club once frequented by the Beatles. He said, “Let’s go across the street and get a gyro.”
At that time I had never had one of the classic Greek sandwiches involving lamb meat and tzatziki sauce. I was just tipsy enough to agree, and the experience is one I’ll never forget. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve had a better gyro since, probably because of the thrill related to trying that very first one.
I’ve had plenty since, including the fantastic and somewhat unorthodox version at Jasmin Bakery in Buechel (if you haven’t had it, you should), but the one I had most recently is one that will stick with me for a while — not to mention one I likely will get again.
I went to V-Grits not long ago with my friend Jill, having already tried the vegan crab cakes made with jackfruit and the vegan macaroni and cheese on V-Grits’ menu. The selection includes all sorts of Southern-inspired vegan dishes, including fried chicken made with oyster mushrooms, jackfruit barbecue and a vegan Hot Brown.
But something caught my eye: a vegan gyro. I mean, of all things meat-centric, there aren’t many things more dependent upon meat than, well, a Greek meat sandwich. So I ordered it out of pure curiosity and wonder.
When it arrived, I remember marveling at how beautiful it looked. Most gyros I’ve had, like the one in Liverpool, involve iceberg lettuce, onions and tomatoes. But this one also had strips of grilled red and green pepper and, instead of washed-out looking iceberg, it featured a bed of mixed greens, including red leaf lettuce, in the flatbread. Topping it all off was a za’atar spice blend that even added tints of dark red and dark green.
It was colorful, alluring and immediately appetizing. Of course, the “meat” portion looked simply like thinly-sliced, rotisserie-cooked lamb and beef. But, obviously, the folks at V-Grits would never harm a lamb or cow in the process of making their food.
With any vegan dish, I enter into it trying my best to take it for what it is and not compare it to what it is attempting to approximate, if that makes any sense. If it’s good food, it’s good food, in other words. And if this gyro didn’t taste anything like the traditional gyros I love, so be it. No harm, no foul.
But three bites in, I was hooked to the point that I no longer cared if it was vegan — it was just a gyro. The distinctive spicy flavor was there, the tzatziki was delicious and the vegetables were fresh, grilled perfectly and the soft flatbread grilled just right as well.
But here’s where it got kind of weird for me: I have always been the person who, when full, will finish off the meat and leave behind bread and vegetables. I’m just a meat guy, and I make no apologies for that. That policy sort of goes out the window in a vegan restaurant, right?
Apparently not, because when I realized I could never finish the huge gyro, I started picking out the “meat,” without even thinking. I didn’t even realize it until I’d taken a few bites that I was mindlessly doing this, carrying out my ritual of “no meat left behind.” Except it wasn’t meat at all.
I was a bit shocked.
I contacted V-Grits co-owner Kristina Addington after the fact to ask her what that gyro meat actually was, and here’s what she told me: “Wheat gluten is the base. It’s mixed with beans and the right mix of spices for flavor. [It’s] baked in a loaf and then-sliced on the meat slicer.”
Wheat gluten and beans — I never saw that gyro when I was in Liverpool. And as Addington put it — the V-Grits gyro meat is made with basic ingredients anyone can buy at Kroger. But somehow, it passed my “no meat left behind” test, and that says everything to me. Plus, she said it’s “loaded with protein.” That’s a win.
Whatever the case, it was pretty uncanny and definitely delicious. You still need to try that meaty gyro at Jasmin Bakery, but add the V-Grits version to the must-try list too. And be sure to eat all the meat.