One of the first people I met after I moved to the Quad Cities nearly 20 years ago turned me onto a little Greek gyro place in Moline called Uncle Pete's. He told me, "They have the best gyro's in the Quad City." Quite honestly, I haven't found another place that sells gyros that even comes close - even the Greek guys who come in for the annual street fest in downtown Davenport don't come close to Uncle Pete's. Over the years, Uncle Pete's has turned into a favorite dining spot of ours.
Uncle Pete's is named after Pete Panouses (below left), a big bear of a guy who was the original owner since 1982. Originally at South Park Mall, Pete and his wife, Kathy, operated a little 32-seat "hole-in-the-wall" location on the Avenue of the Cities in Moline. It could get crowded in Uncle Pete's with people waiting for in-house and to-go orders. But the food was always good. We always used Uncle Pete's as the measuring stick against any other gyros we'd encounter during our travels. And we've found time and time again that Uncle Pete's is hard to beat.
Just after Christmas in 2006, Pete Panouses passed away. His son, Chris (above right), had been working in the family business and had been in managing the place while Pete held court at a little table near the cash register talking to longtime friends and customers when they came in. Other than a large picture of Pete on the wall and his obituary hanging next to it, you couldn't tell if there were any changes going on with the restaurant. Uncle Pete's gyros continued to be the best in town.
Last year, ALDI grocery stores bought the little strip mall that Uncle Pete's was housed in. They were going to tear down the strip mall and put up a grocery store. Chris Panouses had to scramble and find a new place. He wanted to stay within a mile of the original Uncle Pete's location and found some land just up the road a bit (closer for us, actually, from our home in Davenport). It was there he built the new and improved Uncle Pete's restaurant, nearly tripling the seating to 80 in the process. He had hoped to be open by February 1 as they had to vacate the old place by the first of March. But delays in the building of the new restaurant forced him to shut down operations for seven weeks before he was finally able to re-open in the new location in late April.
Not only has the seating increased, but it allowed Panouses to increase the number of items on his menu. He's introduced Italian beef sandwiches, a reuben sandwich and a steak sandwich to the menu. The prices on the gyros have gone up modestly since the move, but they pack them with so much gyro meat it's still a great value.
Cindy and I were over in Moline one Saturday earlier this summer and we had passed the new location of Uncle Pete's (see map). It had been early February since I'd been in - Cindy had been over to the new location a couple of times when I would be on the road. While the old location was sort of recessed and off the street - it was tough to see if you didn't know it was there - the new building stands much closer to the street and the signage is large and easy to see. And Uncle Pete's has a large parking lot that they don't have to share as they had to with two or three other businesses in the old strip mall.
As we walked in, the first thing I noticed was how large the dining room was. There were a number of tables and booths throughout the place - a lot nicer tables and chairs, I might add, than what the Panouses family had at the old location. But that also helped with the ambiance of the old place. The new and improved Uncle Pete's was very nice.
And just like at the old place, you place your orders at Uncle Pete's at the counter - although the counter at the new location is just as you walk in the door from the parking lot. The counter of the old place was in the back of the restaurant and you had to walk through diners just to get your order place. Once again, it was one of those things you just did to get a good gyro from Uncle Pete's.
The menu is located behind the counter, even helping with the correct pronunciation of gyros (YEE-roes). They have two sizes of gyros at Uncle Pete's - the regular and the super. The super comes with an extra container of tzatziki sauce, which, I was told, comes from a family recipe handed down through Kathy Panouses' family. The super gyro is my usual order at Uncle Pete's. While they do have good french fries, a super gyro is usually the only thing I need when I'm there.
Cindy ordered up a regular gyro and an order of Uncle Pete's fries which are more like steak fries than thin French fries. Uncle Pete's slathers on the tzatziki sauce on the regular gyro and you usually don't need to get another container. But if you do want one, it's 50 cents extra.
We found a table and waited for our number to be called. When the girl called out our number, I went up and got our gyros and a ton of napkins as you'll usually need them when you eat an Uncle Pete's gyro. Wrapped in wax paper and served on a paper plate, Uncle Pete's gyros haven't changed since my first visit in 1991. Look at the amount of gyro meat they put on their super gyro. You have to use a fork and knife - plastic, naturally, at Uncle Pete's - to eat some of the gyro meat before you can pick up the pita shell and eat it.
The gyro meat at Uncle Pete's is always cooked just right - not too overdone or undercooked. Too many times at other gyro places they slice off the gyro meat from the spit and let it sit on a tray under a heat lamp, over cooking the strips. Uncle Pete's sort of does the same thing, but as quick as they go through gyros, the meat doesn't stay in the tray all that long. The onions on the gyros at Uncle Pete's are always fresh and strong, and while the tomatoes are of the common salad bar variety that you find in most restaurants, they still put a lot of slices on their gyros.
Since I didn't have any breakfast that day, I made short work of my super gyro. Thank God the taste and quality didn't change with the move to the new location. I helped Cindy with a few of her fries and they were the same as the old location. Many times when a restaurant has moved to a new location, there's something that changes in the quality of the food. Other than a lot more seating and a new building, I can't see much of anything that changed at the new Uncle Pete's.
Chris Panouses was quoted in a couple of the local papers as saying that it was a shock for him to have to leave the old location. They'd gotten into a comfort zone at the old place and leaving the old location was "really emotional." But as good as business has been for him at his new location, I'm sure he's not missing the old place one bit. Uncle Pete's is still closed on Sunday's, but the rest of the time you can find some of the best gyros you'll ever eat anywhere over in Moline. And even though I haven't had one yet, I understand Uncle Pete's has a good burger, too. I'll have to give that a try at some point, but it's certainly tough to go to Uncle Pete's and not order a gyro.