My high school boyfriend and I liked Greek food.
Or, at least the Americanized Greek food that features a lamb or chicken gyro with french fries. If you especially know your stuff you might know about falafel or baklava, at the most.
The summer before, I spent two-weeks volunteering in Accra, Ghana while he toured around Europe, with a longer stay in Greece. We both came back with fantastic stories, new ideas and a different feeling toward the term “long-distance.”
Over thick, seasoned fries and customized gyros, he told me about the hotel, the sea, and the bars. He told me about the french fries in Greece, how they came with every meal and about the wagons hauling watermelons so ripe they were almost bursting. The Greeks love watermelon, he said.
The following year was different though. For one, we had graduated high school and my boyfriend had informed me that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do a long-distance relationship. We stayed together that summer anyway, each of us working 40 plus hour weeks at our respective part-time jobs.
We met after long shifts and often headed to Acropolis, a fast-food style Greek restaurant that was closest to his home. Though “fast-food,” it didn’t seem even remotely similar to the defrosted, salty fries of McDonalds or Wendy’s, or the square, thin burgers either.
The summer was emotional and listless, tiring and restless. We needed something to do. I’m not sure how it started – if the idea came while we were eating at Acropolis, or when a friend suggested another place, or maybe because I remembered about Yanni’s, a Greek restaurant closer to my neighborhood – but somehow we decided to try every Greek restaurant in Central Ohio. Or at least, our version of Central Ohio.
There was no map and there was no research. We didn’t make a list to cross off after each try. We already knew of many and we sought out others from friends or added new ones after stumbling upon them late-night on campus.
Columbus has a large immigrant population, one that has only grown and diversified. Where there used to be a strip mall of discount clothing stores is now a strip mall of international supermarkets and african fabrics, kosher deli’s and arabic food stalls. There’s no shortage of ethnic food to try, some as authentic as it can get in the Midwest, far from the original countries.
Acropolis was obviously a favorite place ours. I liked that they offered mini-sized gyros and the fries couldn’t be beat. I think he liked the price-to-food ratio and both of us liked the convenience. We tried Yanni’s, a popular one close to my house, in a strip mall behind a strip club, next to where I used to get my hair cut. I can’t remember now whether we actually made it to Nazareth Restaurant & Deli or not – odd because it’s so close.
We went to Lavash Cafe, a new-at-the-time Mediterranean place on High Street. The cafe’s style was fantastic but the menu was confusing. I ordered something I thought would be similar to a gyro but when a tube-shaped wrap came out I was disappointed that the pita wasn’t softer.
We had a date night at the Happy Greek, one of the only sit-down, fancy restaurants. It was a whole new world from our usual gyro and fries wrapped in greasy paper. We ate stuffed grape leaves as an appetizer and warm pita with warm hummus. There were spiced olives and more meat with our entrees than we could finish. We never did make it to Mad Greek.
We tried a place by me that I still don’t know the name of, I just call it the 2 for $5 gyro place, based off of the gaudy window paint announcing the deal. Still, the gyro’s were good and I appreciated how fresh the lettuce was.
Toward the end of summer we were both working more and more often. I went to some hole-in-the-wall place on campus with a colleague. We were hungover and ate overly greasy gyros glumly but empathetically together.
Then college started and our relationship ended and so, it seemed, did our Greek food challenge. The ethnic-food scene in Athens, my new home, was dismal. I went on a date to a gyro place there once. I don’t think people typically sit in there to eat, in any case we were stared at the entire time by the only worker. Another time I ate not-quite-Greek-food-but-could-be Pita Pit drunk on a Friday night. My friend threw hers up, lettuce and all.
It seemed like a movie, the summer we tried all the Greek restaurants in town. Actually, we failed, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. It was fun, something different, something to distract us from the end of our relationship during the awkward, transitional period before college.
Eventually I went to Yanni’s again. Then when I studied abroad I caved and stopped at a sketchy stand for a gyro, though they call it a kebab in Europe. Later, when Marco was in America I took him to the 2 for $5 gyro place. I explained to him the different options, what we call everything, and placed our order. We brought our warm, foil-wrapped gyros home and ate them together while I told Marco about the summer I tried to try them all.
I think that gyro was the best one.