Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros: The Taste of Danforth Edition

For those of you who don't know, The Taste of Danforth is an annual event held in the heart of Toronto's Greek community. For one weekend in August for the past 16 years, a long strip along Danforth is closed to traffic allowing store owners along that strip to strut out their best souvlaki, gyros, spinach pies and other Greek dishes. The website claims it is Canada's largest street festival and welcomes well over a million visitors.

For the past 15 years, I've never been to The Taste of Danforth and frankly I've never had much of an interest to. I finally decided to check it out this year with a couple of friends (including the
foodtographer) and I'm glad I made that decision. Meat on a stick for $3? Wrapped in a pita for $5? Where do I sign up?

Of the 11 restaurants on the best souvlaki & gyros in Toronto list, seven of them were located on Danforth. I knew I wouldn't be able to review all of them but I was going to do the best I can.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #2: Messini

Fries can make anything better

Messini was the first stop. They set up a tent and were selling either chicken or pork gyros for $5. I guess everybody else knew of their reputation as well because the line up was pretty long. Thankfully it moved pretty quickly. Once we got to the front of the line and made our order, we were given a ticket based on whether we wanted chicken or pork. We were then moved to the side and workers would instruct you to go to the next available chef. The chef then took a pita, spread tzaziki sauce on it, topped it with tomatos and onions, loaded it with your meat of choice and then crammed some fries in there before wrapping it.

The pita was soft and warm, the chicken was tender and the tzaziki was strong but not overpowering. This was pretty much a full meal and was totally worth the $5 (though I'm not sure how much it is regularly on their menu). Considering the contents and the size of this thing, you definitely will not find it in your weight-watcher's diet but fuck it, you can eat a salad for lunch tomorrow; this gyro is too good to pass up.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #1: Astoria

I love this pork souvlaki so much, I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant

Once we were done at Messini, we were off to Astoria. It wasn't hard to spot. Just look for the long ass line. The line started so far back that I couldn't even read what they were offering. Whatever it was, I knew it had to be good and I had to have it. As the line inched forward, I saw what they were selling; Pork Souvlaki for $3. I looked for another sign because there has to be more than this, right? Were they including a pair of Leafs tickets with your purchase or something? There's no way all these people are lining up just for pork souvlaki when every other vendor is selling the same thing. After a good 15-20 minutes in line, we finally got our meat on a stick.

Have you ever had a perfect moment? A moment where all your troubles fade away, a moment that feels so surreal that you question whether it's a fantasy, a moment that you want to live in forever yet if you died right there and then you would be completely content since you have experienced "the moment". For many it could be a first kiss? Their wedding? The birth of their child? Well for me, it was my first bite of this pork souvlaki. The pork was seasoned to perfection and the texture is what meat lovers dream of. It was crunchy on the outside which trapped its juices on the inside. The meat itself was tender and juicy. It was definitely love at first bite! I do regret getting this because how will I ever be content with eating meat again after having this? It's hard to believe that meat can be this good. My only explanation is that they sprinkled their pork with crack before cooking it.

The Biggest Regret: Blackstone

Ever wonder what a kangaroo burger looked like? Exactly like a regular burger!

Now I don't know about you but I love trying weird, exotic meats. I mean if somebody on the other side of the world loves it, then why wouldn't I? This has led to some regretful choices (fox, ostrich and snail to name a few). Well, yesterday I added another mammal to that list; Kangaroo. Blackstone was serving kangaroo burgers for $4 and the curiosity just got the best of me and my friend. We ended up splitting one. Do people really eat kangaroo down under? Because this kangaroo burger was just disgusting. The taste is very hard to describe. The patty was more tender than a beef patty but it had a very strong and bold wild flavour to it if you know what I mean. I guess I would compare it to lamb if I had to pick a meat to compare it to and I hate eating lamb too. I didn't end up finishing my half and if you know me, I rarely ever let food go to waste.

The Dessert: Demetres

R.I.P. Top Cone

I don't even know if I can call this dessert since dessert is always served at the end. This is more like "I'm eating ice cream because I am not going to back track all the way here to get dessert when the day is over". Demetres was selling their homemade style ice cream. You could either get a waffle cone for $3 or a scoop in a cup with strawberries for $3. I opted for a cup of Cookeo (cookie dough flavour) because cones are messy. To prove that, the foodtographer got a cone (pictured). The top cone shattered shortly after the picture was taken and her hair ended up dipping into the ice cream. Nice!

The ice cream was just awesome. It was creamy, not too sweet and had a good amount of cookie crumbs. It had a buttery soft consistency yet I wasn't left with a soup when I reached the bottom. I can't think of many more satisfying ways to cool off on a hot summer day.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #9: Louis Authentic Gyros and Souvlaki Take-Out

Don't cross the swords!

Now the Louis stand had a bit of everything. They were selling quails for $3, pork or chicken souvlaki for $3 (or 2 for $5), in a pita for $5 and a lot of other stuff as well. I wanted to see how they would measure up to Astoria so I got the pork souvlaki. While the meat was very good and tender, there really wasn't a comparison. The chunks were a lot smaller, the seasoning was a bit salty for my liking and the meat wasn't nice and charred like the souvlaki from Astoria. Now don't get me wrong, it was still a very good souvlaki, Astoria is just that good!

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #4: Asteria

Astoria > Asteria

My last stop of the day was at Asteria. They were selling chicken or pork on a stick for $3 or in a pita for $5. The line up was moderately long so I figured this place must be pretty good, afterall it is #4 on the list. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. While the meat had nice and crunchy grill marks, the seasoning was a bit heavy. I found the meat too salty and it left an aftertaste in my mouth. It was far from horrible but I guess since it was #4, I expected more. The chunks of meat were about the same size as Louis' but I prefer Louis' souvlaki over Asteria's. I can imagine a lot of their customers going there thinking it is Astoria only to be left disappointed.

I think I'm going through some sort of Astoria souvlaki withdrawal already. I may need to go next weekend just to satisfy this hunger. If you're looking to go, hit me up in the comments. I'm paying! (This last paragraph only applies if you're a hot single female - Bow Chicka Wow Wow)