Annie-Marie Musselman

NESTLED TIGHTLY into a narrow space on University Avenue, the Gyrocery turns out super-charged gyros that stand proudly as the finest available in the metropolitan area. Gyros have been around for a long time, and while their design appears to be remarkably simple, many things can go wrong, potentially leading an eager eater down a lonely and darkened path. Stale pitas, timid saucing, pre-cut meat slices, and conservative portions are the cardinal sins of gyro preparation. There is no such foolishness at the Gyrocery.

Coming face to face with a perfect gyro can be an emotional and joyful experience. (In fact, when you walk in the door of the Gyrocery, you will come face to face, up close and personal, with a giant, vibrantly colored and frankly vaginal picture of a gyro). Gyro meat is shaved by hand from large, rotating chunks heated by a vertical contraption, which warms a spinning amalgamation of beef and lamb. At the Gyrocery, we were lucky enough to witness the spectacle of the loading of the meat chunk. As the employee hauled the large, frozen, and pyramidic hunk from the freezer and loaded it into its housing with a muscular and stylish grace, we felt as though we were watching much more than some guy attach a big piece of cold meat to a stainless steel machine; indeed, we were looking at the long history of gyros-making. Dreamy (and probably wildly inaccurate) visions danced before our eyes, of Grecians clad in biblical-era robes heating entire sheep over fire pits, then serving each other chunks of the succulent meat in thin, chewy pita bread. Cries of "Who wants Gyros?" might have filled the hot and dusty air. Regardless, it had all come to this. And damned if it wasn't worth the wait.

The Gyro Platter ($4.60) proved to be worthy of nothing less than a gold medal. While the fries were of the frozen variety, the Gyrocery presented them with little pretense. In fact, the workers openly hoisted a large bag and spilled frosty, rock-hard potatoes into the deep fryer. It was as though they were saying to the world, "We are not ashamed that we serve frozen fries." Lightly salted and kissed with the flowery flavor of slightly aged deep-fryer oil, these fries provided a starchy and solid gastric foundation for the gyros to follow. They would cushion the fall of the gyros out the esophagus and into the stomach, serving as a competent buffer.

Not that the beautifully constructed gyros were in need of any such buffering. Lying like a sleeping baby inside the omnipresent paper gyro wrapper, the brown and steamy meat shavings were wrapped in a blanket of warm, beige pita. Mingling between and peeking out above the gyro meat was tatziki sauce, soothing in its cucumber-cool whiteness. Could all this flavor come from just yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and parsley? With all the force of a live hand grenade, it literally exploded with freshness. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The Gyrice Platter ($4.60) proved to be a tidy snoutful of goodness, brimming with attractive and wisely applied spices. A generous pile of gyro meat sat jauntily to one side, while adjacent basmati rice splashed colorful hues of red and orange. Tying it all together was a verdant salad, served with "homemade sauce" similar to the tatziki-style cucumber and garlic dressing on the gyro. The Gyrocery's ample portioning philosophy again provided great satisfaction. Still, cheap pricing and large servings don't necessarily create happy eaters. For very little money, one could fill a large plate with dust, dirt, lint, and gravel, and come away full yet with head hung low. While nobly delivering the goods in the value and serving-size categories, the Gyrice Platter provided further evidence that the Gyrocery, like the Oakland Raiders, is indeed committed to excellence.

All the usual suspects were there: cumin, oregano, fresh garlic and parsley, yogurt, coriander, and olive oil. Such spices hint at ornate mystery and history, creating a window into ancient and honored cultures which would surely have been closed tight to Seattleites only 50 years ago. People have been eating food like this, flavored like this, for a long, long time, and it's our great luck that instead of traveling halfway around the world, we only have to find a way to get to the Ave.

Aladdin Gyrocery, 4139 University Way NE, 632-5253. Sat 9 am-3 am; all other days, 9 am-2 am. No alcohol (but plenty of cigarettes!).