When I found out that the Boise Romio’s was moving from their more plush digs to a smaller spot in a strip of businesses located in the Shopko plaza on Fairview and Milwaukee, I was honestly a little surprised. I had only eaten there once, and it had been so long ago that I couldn’t even remember the experience. I was curious to see how they would fare, but not so much that I rushed to the new location to try them again. Over the first couple of months at their new spot, I watched as they advertised fresh soups and lunch specials, but what finally grabbed me was when they started advertising Zorba’s Gyros. I knew that they had been running the Zorba’s truck at the Western Idaho Fair and I was pretty impressed with the food there, and my curiosity to see how that would translate to a restaurant setting finally provided the motivation I needed.
I was in a good mood that day, and amused by the irony of the fact that I had no intention of getting either of the dishes mentioned in the name of the restaurant. Romio’s has a number of lunch specials, and I honed right in on the pita wrap special, since that’s the section of the menu where their gyro resides. I happily opted to pay the little bit extra to have feta cheese added. The special comes with homemade potato chips and a choice of soup or salad, and despite it being a cold day, I was craving veggies and chose the salad. I called in my order and was told it would be ready in about ten minutes, and they were finishing packing it up in a giant paper shopping bag when I arrived. Rushing back to the office so I could eat before my gyro got cold, I couldn’t help but wonder what my coworkers must have thought of the size of that bag.
|Not the most graceful of take-out packaging, but certainly effective!|
As tempted as I was to get straight to my sandwich, I figured it would stay warm enough until I finished my salad (like I said, I was really craving some veggies that day). I was amazed how loaded that tiny little salad was.
|Side salad with oil and vinegar|
The salad really did hit the spot. The croutons were obviously made in-house, the tomato was nice and ripe, the cucumber firm and with a little peel left on, and they certainly didn’t skimp on the olives. If memory serves, I think I took that salad down in about half a dozen bites, and it was finally time for the main event.
|Gyro and homemade potato chips|
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten fresh potato chips from a restaurant before, but it’s something I’d like to see more of them do. I’ve personally made little batches myself with red wine and balsamic vinegar that always taste good but don’t maintain their crispness, but Romio’s doesn’t have that problem. Their chips are thick, crisp, and a little on the oily side though I would hesitate to describe them as greasy. Then I went to unwrap the gyro and found trouble in my paradise.
|The naked gyro|
Not only was the feta I paid extra for nowhere to be seen, but there was no tzatziki sauce. I stepped outside, called the restaurant and asked if I had left anything sitting there. They assured me that the cheese and sauce were in there, and that they put them in separate little cups when it’s a take-out order so the gyro won’t get soggy or messy while you’re traveling. I advised the woman I was speaking to that I had double-checked the bag and all its contents, to which she replied that the condiment cups were likely underneath the potato chips. To be honest, I hadn’t checked there, so I thanked her and went back inside to take a look. Still no condiments. I called back and told her I was now certain that I didn’t have the items in question. She put me on the phone with her boss, and I explained the situation again. He said that I could swing by and pick up some sauce and cheese, but by this point there was no way I could make it back before my lunch break was over. He then offered to bring the stuff to me, but I figured by that point the food itself would be ice cold. Tersely, I told him not to worry about it and hung up. I went back inside and picked up my gyro, already thinking about ways of describing how dry and bland it was when I finally got around to doing my write-up.
Except it wasn’t dry and bland. At all. The tomato was juicy, the lettuce fresh, but the real surprise was the meat itself. This was not the crispy, freshly shaved kind of gyro meat you see at most places. In fact, the only way I can think of to describe it is that it had the texture of a hamburger patty but looked like a sausage sliced lengthwise. The bread could also have mucked things up if it was the least bit stale, but that wasn’t the case, and in fact it was so soft that I had to be careful not to tear it as I ate. The seasonings were also just the perfect strength to allow all the other flavors to shine through. This wasn’t my first feta-less gyro, but it was the first one I’d had that was devoid of any sauce and that didn’t keep it from being one of the better ones I’ve had. Also, the thing was pretty big as far as gyros go. There are cheaper options in town, but you’ll be getting less food and in some cases less consistent quality.
While I was eating, my phone rang. When I answered, I was surprised to find myself talking to the boss man from Romio’s again. He apologized profusely, talked about how surprising the mistake was considering how many gyros they put out without any problem, how important their customers are to them, and how he hoped I would give them another chance.. At this point, I was feeling guilty for the fact that I had stirred things up for fifty cents worth of cheese and a squirt of sauce. I told him that I knew they put out good food, that I’d had one of their gyros at the Fair and loved it. Furthermore, I assured him that I would indeed be back and that the gyro was pretty good even without the extras. I have to admit, the guy impressed me. I’ve seen so much apathetic and even just plain hostile service in restaurants that this level of responsibility and concern was moving. That kind of attitude would make me want to patronize a restaurant even if they were just okay, but luckily Romio’s is better than that.
And so, two weeks later I found myself at their doorstep again after calling in another order. A gyro again (it’s an addiction, what can I say), but this time I decided to ask about the soups. The answers took me by surprise: clam chowder and chicken lemon rice. I was certain that I didn’t want clam chowder with a gyro, but the other option was intriguing. They packed it up for me and I headed back to work. As tempted as I was to immediately break out the gyro and make sure that all was as it should be (the way they package to-go orders isn’t exactly conducive to taking a quick peek), I was too insanely curious about the soup and broke it out first.
|Chicken Lemon Rice soup|
Though I never would have thought to put this combination together, when it was mentioned to me I had a quick flash of how this would taste if done perfectly, and I’m happy to say the reality was just that good. More of a porridge than a soup, the rice was cooked incredibly tender but with the individual grains still discernible. The chicken was in tiny pieces so as not to distract from the overall dish, and the lemon was little more than an undertaste, a bright flavor that could easily have overwhelmed everything else were it not so perfectly controlled. At that moment, I would gladly have traded the gyro for more of the soup, but eventually it was all gone and I opened the other container. Initially I had a crazy sense of déjà vu, but this time the condiments were indeed under the potato chips.
|A well-dressed gyro|
I stand by my earlier statement that the previous gyro I had was perfectly good (and likely fits better into a sensible diet) without the creamy extras. Be that as it may, there’s something about that yogurt dressing and a good quality feta used judiciously that takes the whole thing to the next level. I’ll definitely be back for more, and in the future I may even order it without the sauce and cheese just to make it a little healthier. Or maybe I’ll just get an entrée-sized portion of that soup, which I’ve since been assured is available almost every day they’re open (Thursday being the exception). Or maybe, just maybe I’ll try the pizza or pasta…
Final Grade: A-