On a recent visit to Chicago, I was in the mood for a good gyro. Since I was staying out in the western suburbs, I wanted to find some place in the area for good Greek food. One place I found was a place called the Greek Islands in suburban Lombard just north of Yorktown Center shopping mall. (see map).
Over 20 years ago, during my first trip ever to the Consumer Electronics Show when they held it in Chicago in the summertime, I was taken to the original Greek Islands restaurant in Greek Town near downtown Chicago. This was my first meal with my new boss, Mike Cannady, and my new colleague, Kevin Leja. I don't remember much about the evening because of all the Ouzo we were drinking. But it was my first exposure to Greek food and I remember having a good time. Too good of a time. I also remember crawling up the stairs to our hotel rooms later that evening. The best thing is that all three of us are still good friends to this day and we still have a good laugh when we reminisce about that evening.
The Greek Islands in downtown Chicago (see map) is sort of an institution in the area. It first opened in 1971 when Gus Couchell, Filandros Sguros, Apostolos Bournas and Michael Scafidi pooled their resources into the Greek Islands restaurant. Today, Gus Couchell continues to be the managing partner. The Greek Islands is famous bringing in many of their ingredients directly from Greece with Gus Couchell personally selecting some of the items to be shipped back to the U.S.
The Greek Islands opened their Lombard location in 1984. It is significantly more upscale in appearance than the original Greek Islands restaurant downtown. The original Greek Islands looks a little more funky, sort of like an old fish shack or something along that line. The Greek Islands in Lombard is very nice with a more ornate appearance.
The place was nearly full when I went in about 7:30 one evening to get something to eat. The very Greek host, sat me at a table in the loud dining room and handed me a menu. A young man brought a basket of fresh bread and very fresh olive oil.
While they had a lot to offer, quite honestly, about the only Greek food I really know is gyros. Some of the seafood dishes looked tempting. I almost ordered one of the chicken dishes on the menu. But really, about the only thing I've ever had that was Greek has been gyros. I don't even remember what I got for dinner for my first meal at the original Greek Islands. I'm tellin' ya - Ouzo is powerful shit! I think I saw Jesus that night.
I looked through the menu and really the only thing that I really wanted was gyro meat - a combination of lamb and beef on a spit with the meat shaved off into thin slices. And the cucumber sauce! Gotta have the cucumber sauce.
By this time, I realized that I was not being noticed by any of the busy waiters in the restaurant. It was like I didn't exist. Five minutes goes by - no one stops to acknowledge me. I sat and read my Chicago Tribune, waiting patiently for a waiter to even bring me a glass of water. The bread was making me thirsty. About 5 more minutes went by. Nothing. I decided not to try and stop someone just to see how long it would be. I know quite well the hazards of dining alone in a busy restaurant. I have gotten up and left before if no one waits on me. It hasn't happened for quite sometime.
This night it almost happened.
Finally, a waiter came up and asked if I'd been helped. I said, "I've been here almost 15 minutes and the only person I've talked to is the host who sat me. I know you guys are busy, but this is ridiculous."
He half-heartedly apologized for my inconvenience and asked what he could bring me. I told him I'd take the gyros platter and a Bud Light. He clicked his pen, thanked me and off he went.
I waited another five minutes before my lukewarm Bud Light showed up at the table. I took a drink and the next thing I know, here's my gyros platter being laid in front of me. It was a generous portion of gyro meat with sliced tomatoes and onions with a couple pieces of pita bread. Oh, and of course, the sauce. I really didn't need the pita bread, given that I ate some of the very good fresh baked bread earlier. So I just started eating the meat as is.
Only the meat was over-cooked. Way over-cooked. As in almost inedible over-cooked. It was dry and lifeless. It was like someone had cut it off the spit, popped it in the oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then pulled it out to serve it. I sort of wondered if they just had the strips of gyro meat lying around in a pan under a hot light in the kitchen because it would have taken some time to slice off all that meat - a lot longer than what it took for the waiter to take my order, then come back with the food in well less than 10 minutes. The only saving grace was that the tomatoes, onions and the sauce were fresh and added some flavor to the meat.
Given that the service was bad, and now the gyro meat was severely over-done, I just chalked it up to one of those things you face on the road. It was definitely not a good value, that's for sure. They charged me $11.25 for the gyros plate. We have a place in the Quad Cities called Uncle Pete's over in Moline that charges $6.25 for a gyro that has more meat than what I got on my plate at the Greek Islands, and it tastes infinitely better than what I had this particular evening. (I need to do an entry on Uncle Pete's. Their gyros really are tough to beat.)
Some places only get one shot with me. Some of it is because I may not be traveling through there again, or I'm looking to try other places in the area. But some are because of poor service, poor food and a poor experience. I had all three at the Greek Islands in Lombard. Although the place was packed with people, and they've been in business for 25 years at this location, my one and only time at this Greek Islands will regrettably be my last. I'm sure they'll survive without me.