George and Kostas “Charlie” Tiglianidis are serious about their gyros. After the brothers closed their family deli, Orchard Cafe, in Norwood, after 15 years, they opened The Feisty Greek in the same strip mall last year. They also consulted with a visiting chef from Greece to fine-tune their gyro marinade. They did away with the carving knives you usually see on the large vertical spit of meat and opted instead for a rotating blade designed to shave pork shoulder into fine shreds. As George Tiglianidis explains, pork — not beef or lamb — is the traditional choice for the Greek version of this dish. French fries are also commonly tucked into this pita wrap, so they decided to do that too.
Why this obsession with authenticity? “I had not found a place here that served gyros like I had in Greece,” Tiglianidis says. So opening the restaurant was both a nod to their heritage and a chance to involve the whole family. Their mother, Areti, is the heart of the kitchen. In fact, most of the recipes are hers. Dad John Tiglianidis has worked in area restaurants since the 1970s. These days, his sons and daughters-in-law run the front of house while he makes soups from scratch. It’s rare to see him, even though you can’t miss his cartoon likeness in the restaurant’s logo.
We visit in the thick of the lunch rush. Customers from nearby office parks and auto dealerships off Route 1 are placing orders at the long counter before taking a seat in the dining area. Walls are done in terra cotta and Aegean blue. George’s wife, Tina, is working as part of an efficient line assembling hot and cold sides.
In addition to the gyro wrap ($10.95), which comes with two sides and a Greek salad, the Greek burger combo with fries ($7.75) is a popular choice. A made-to-order burger is medium-rare as requested, enclosed in a soft grilled bun with iceberg lettuce, tomato, creamy feta, and tzatziki, the garlicky yogurt sauce. The tomato isn’t ripe, but the juicy patty steals the show. “It’s the kind of burger I would want at a backyard barbecue,” offers a dining companion. Hand-cut french fries are heaped beside the burger, twice-fried to ensure a crisp, golden crust.
Side dishes are so delicious we find it hard to put down our plastic forks. Stuffed grape leaves, served chilled, are full of tender rice, brightly flavored with herbs and lemon. The menu describes melitzanosalata as a pureed eggplant and olive oil spread, but it appears as silky chunks of char-grilled eggplant, chopped scallions, and diced tomatoes dressed in a garlicky vinaigrette. We scoop some onto fresh pita bread that we’ve slathered with feisty feta-ricotta spread ($1.75 single serving, $4.75 half-pint), which packs a tingle of heat. Tiglianidis tells us later, “We add habanero peppers. They’re not Greek, but we like them.” (They may be passionate about authenticity, but they allow for culinary creativity.)
Lemon chicken orzo soup ($4.50 for a bowl) is made from homemade stock. Lamb kebabs ($13.95) are meaty and tender, made from the leg, prepped in-house. With it come roast lemon potatoes (wedges basted with lemon juice and herbs) and soft-cooked green beans with a delightful hint of cinnamon.
The Middle Eastern plate ($8.95) includes some of the smoothest hummus we’ve tried, rich with sesame tahini, plus tabouli that is light on wheat grains and full of chopped parsley, lemon, and olive oil. We finish with galaktobouriko ($3), a springy custard pastry made with sheets of phyllo, and decide to try rice pudding and baklava on our next visit.
Before we head out, we catch a glimpse of a bespectacled gentleman in an apron emerging from the kitchen to fill a cup from the soft-drink dispenser. He smiles before ambling back in.
He undoubtedly is the patriarch: the feisty Greek himself.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com