Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Greek Town" Eulogized, Chef Zorba's Lives On

In my writing I tend to make liberal use of quotation marks to emphasize sarcasm, irony and to qualify that which is in need of qualification. I may use these punctuations excessively at times, but if anything is worthy of qualifying quotations (as well as the somewhat annoying bilateral dual-finger motions that go along with it), it is was Denver's "Greek Town". "Greek Town" in Denver should always (always) come with quotations, and when speaking, if you are averse to the finger quotation motion, you should at least say "Greek Town" with a more-than-slight amount of sarcasm.

You also must, apparently, now speak of "Greek Town" in the past tense. When I sat down to write this entry I still had the humorous image burned in my brain of the dozen or so tattered banners that have hung since 1997 on East Colfax from St. Paul to Elizabeth to mark the handful of shops that make up "Greek Town". However, when I went to take a photo in order to emphasize the sad irony of "Greek Town" with colorful digital images, I was dismayed to see that the banners have since been taken down, and that quietly, "Greek Town" is no more. As proof of their recent abject state, I submit this "current" Google street view:

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A more recent "street view" of "Greek Town", taken from my car 1.2.10



The origins of "Greek Town" are sketchy to say the least (see this Westword article), and now what is left is just what was there in the beginning: two restaurants, a social club, a bakery and an ice-cream parlor. (And an Ethiopian restaurant. And a Chinese take-out.) I haven't tried both Greek restaurants in the former "Greek Town", but was turned off years ago by dining at one of them: the tired and average Pete's "Greek Town" Cafe. Considering that Pete Contos now owns everything in former "Greek Town", I don't expect much more from the other place either (though I do appreciate the Greek touches in his famous Kitchen and University Cafe diners).

There is a metaphor somewhere in the unceremonious removal of the ragged "Greek Town" banners that marked a neighborhood that never really was, and though I am far too un-poetical to find it, I think there is at least a moral: one should look elsewhere in Denver for one's Greek food. That being said I have struggled to find a really good Greek-only restaurant in all of Denver (please enlighten me if you think there is one).

In the meantime, a good gyro spot is all I need sometimes, and for that Chef Zorba's on 12th and Fillmore, is perfect. Being a meat that is traditionally roasted on a spit, I love gyros. There are different kinds of gyros, and I happen to like them all, but I have a particular nostalgic soft spot for the hyper-processed, compressed meat-mix that is ubiquitous with the greasy gyro joint. In Chicago (where my gyro palate developed) this corner of the market is dominated by a company that specializes in mass producing/ industrializing Greek food; and if you have spent any time in Chicago you may have been enticed by one of their omnipresent posters displayed in the window of any corner gyro shop. They feature a variety of smiling 1980s-era models seductively offering you a bite of a Kronos Gyro. And although all these posters are somehow always sun-faded (even in a north-facing window) and at least 20 years old, they survive thanks to the timeless gaze in each model's eyes, a gaze that is only slightly less timeless than the processed meat in her hand.


(Iamges from Flickr and The Takeaway)

Chef Zorba's has this gyro. And they do a fine job of serving it with fat French fries, copious onion chunks, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce. And the pita is deliciously warm, thick and wonderfully buttery. If you are looking for the authentic processed gyro classic (apparently banned for a while in Greece), then look no further.


But the Greek menu doesn't stop there at Chef Zorba's, and though I have to admit I haven't sampled it extensively, what I have eaten there has passed as acceptable to good Greek food with an impressive amount of options including several calamari options that one wouldn't otherwise expect from an all-day breakfast-type place. The rest of the American and Mexican inspired menu is classic and well-executed diner food. The Greek 4-egg omelet with feta, gyro, bell pepper and onion served with tzatziki and hash browns is a favorite of mine, and the breakfast burrito will satisfy while at the same time put a hurt on any big plans for movement you had that day.


The meat. The spit. The Gyro.

Chef Zorba's has a lot to offer and is a welcoming place to have a meal because of its familiar diner feel and friendly, often refreshingly sarcastic servers, who will never let the bottom fall out of the bottomless cup of coffee you are drinking. There is also a full bar behind the classic lunch counter in the back. I owe it to my critical-ass self to get out and explore more Greek options in Denver, and I should probably start by trying some more stuff here. But until then, I'll always be stopping in for my gyro-fix at Chef Zorba's.


Visit Chef Zorba's and throw down on a Gyro. Or have breakfast anytime.

Chef Zorba's Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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