Like many successful restaurants, the Good Greek Grill owes its existence to a delicate balance of careful planning and fortunate mishaps. Co-owner Dino Pantazis says he and his partners had always planned for a brick-and-mortar location, but it was a broken-down food truck that urged them to finally pick an address. Their most productive employee was a long-shot hire with no experience whom they found on Craigslist, and their flagship sandwich, a gyro stuffed with shavings of crispy pork and french fries, might never have taken shape without help from a taco specialist.
But that sandwich has turned this tiny takeout into a bit of a neighborhood anchor. And it’s that same foil-wrapped gyro that will call diners to a soon-to-open location on Yucca Street in Hollywood. When Village Pizza shuttered, Pantazis and his partners jumped on the address. Starting next month, if things go as planned, drivers stuck on the nearby 101 may catch a phantom whiff of mellowing oregano mingling with the spent fumes of Techron.
Chris Feradouros is as familiar with gas fumes as he is with Greek street food. After moving from Thessaloniki, Greece, he spent his first two years in Los Angeles manning the food truck used to build the Good Greek brand. He eventually cooked his way into a partnership — a significant accomplishment considering he had no previous culinary experience. “He didn’t know how to hold a knife,” Pantazis said of the hire he randomly found on the internet. But while Feradouros couldn’t slice tomatoes two years ago, he learned quickly. He also was willing to work 15-hour days.
Another lucky hire came in the form of an employee who happened to work at a taqueria that featured al pastor. After watching the owners struggle with sliced pork and the vertical spit, he offered some tips. Centuries ago, Mediterranean immigrants brought the vertical spit to Mexico and gave birth to a new style of tacos. The trompo has come full circle at Good Greek Grill.
The wheeled kitchen may have rolled indefinitely had transmission problems not turned a return trip from Moorpark into a five-hour slog. “I couldn’t go more than 10 miles an hour,” Feradouros says. The transmission fluid needed refilling every few miles, requiring multiple stops at gas stations. Then it started to rain. When he got back to the commissary, Feradouros told his partners he was finished with rolling kitchen work.
It took six months of looking, but the Vermont Street address tucked next to the Los Feliz Cinemas turned out to be a perfect location for a group of restaurateurs that were still timid about their offering. The space was small and cozy and the foot traffic was good. Plus, the neighborhood was filled with quirky people who were open to trying new food.
Since they opened, Pantazis and his partners have been determined to show L.A. the pork-based sandwich they fell in love with over numerous family trips to Greece. They wax poetic about hand-stacked cones, layered with thin sheets of pork seasoned with herbs and spices. But back in the States, gyro filling is typically shaved from an emulsified meatloaf made from beef trimmings and maybe a little lamb. The practice got its start in Chicago in the 1970s, and has become so ubiquitous that gyro fanatics have made it into a competing “authentic” experience. Pantazis says he was forced to put strips of the meat on his menu. Gently charred on an open grill and slathered with yogurt sauce, the gyro's appeal is hard to deny.
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Still, he hopes customers will try the pork they see slowly turning in the window, hissing, popping and cascading with rivulets of rendered fat. Place an order and a cook will shave a hefty measure of pork from the spit, heap it into a store-bought flat bread and add tomatoes, garlicky tzatziki and a fistful of seasoned French fries. The aluminum sheath is as much a casual wrapper as it is a structural element. Eating this gyro requires concentration and even modesty, as the yogurt-painted faces that line the sidewalk can attest.
“We have so many Greeks coming here and there’s nowhere for them to hang out," Pantazis says of the Los Feliz location, which isn’t much larger than the food truck that started the business. With only a few seats, it can be hard to score real estate.
But that will change next month when the new Hollywood location opens for business. The new space will seat 80 between the dining room and patio, offer TVs and backgammon, and hopefully provide a hub for local Greeks. There are also plans for coffee service based on the same vacation experiences that inspired the team’s first food truck. Picture yourself on a patio sipping a foamy frappé to put an edge back in that post-gyro haze. It’s not a bad image. And it beats chasing a food truck all over the city or wrestling for a seat at the original space.
1820 Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 326-7228, goodgreekgrill.com.