I didn’t have a reason to be in Kansas City except that I was bored.
The Big XII basketball tournament was underway and my friends, newspaper reporters and photographers, were going to cover the games. But also to drink and be rowdy and what did I have to do that was so much better?
So I tagged along. I slept on hotel room floors. I got a few tickets on the street to watch games, but mostly I just hung around and did what I do best: eating food that is not good for me.
As I had hitched a ride, I was carless. So while I did get some barbecue, I wasn’t free to get lost (and this being pre-smartphone days, I would have absolutely gotten lost and never found again). Luckily (?) the hotel we were in led, by tunnel, to a mall food court. I cannot imagine a worse idea for adults or a better one for me. After wandering around and staring at the mostly pitiful options, I decided to try this thing I’d never had before.
A gee-ro? Yee-ro? Jeye-ro? I mean, whatever, I’m sure it’ll suck but whatev–
Oh. Sweet mystery of life. At last. I’ve found you.
Over a scant few days, I traversed that tunnel over and over again for more and I’ve been obsessed with gyros ever since.
If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend reading this New York Times story from 2009 on the history of the gyro and why there’s not really a “traditional” gyro we would recognize. The mass-produced meat cones might gross some people out, but I’m not one of them.
I know how the sausage is made and I will gladly eat it. Which isn’t to say that some gyros don’t rise above the rest.
The sign outside Cafe Savory Bites leans heavily on the gyro — easily the best known and most beloved Persian food in America — but there’s much more to the restaurant.
Whatever challenges new small businesses face, I think the toughest for Cafe Savory Bites is getting customers in the door. Getting to the eatery requires a trip down a service road on the unfashionable east side of I-35. I’ve been there a few times and, no matter what, I’m always sure I’ve gone the wrong way until I arrive.
Everything else about the experience is a joy, though. The owners smile warmly from the kitchen when you enter. Order at the counter and then seat yourself in the small, clean dining room. While the food is prepared, one of the owners will drop by the table to pour you a cup of hot, sweet, minty tea.
Just thinking about Savory Bites makes my shoulders relax.
Do you ever have that? The feeling of tension in your back and shoulders that builds so slowly you don’t even notice. Then, suddenly, your shoulder pads are near your earlobes. Life has a way of stressing us out. But not there.
At Cafe Savory Bites, the soft music and the hot tea stick a (metaphorical) tap at the base of your spine and drain all that tension away. Into a bucket, maybe, so it can be boiled down into stress syrup that you pour over worrycakes.
What I’m saying is: it’s nice.
But I don’t drive down to Moore for nice. I drive there for excellent food and/or because my son wants to go to a place called Jump!Zone. Preferably the food one.
Is the gyro at Savory Bites better than every other gyro in Oklahoma? No. It’s one of the better ones, though. When you’re judging gyros, it’s really about it being good. “The best” is so subjective and gyros, by and large, are pretty tasty regardless. What matters are proportions and those little touches.
I like a gyro that is pretty meaty, but not so overstuffed as to be awkward to eat. I like crisp lettuce and juicy tomato and very thinly sliced red onions. I need plenty of tzatziki, which is the yogurt sauce that comes with gyros, and I need it to be a little tart.
By that standard, the gyros combo ($6.99) with fries and a drink is a good deal. The sandwich ($4.99) alone is in the upper echelon of gyros. The meat is tender, but has nice coloring, and there’s plenty of it. The salad on it is just enough to give every bite a little contrast.
The fries are golden and well cooked — tasty, if nondescript. It’s an excellent value choice and one that will sate whatever gyro lust you’re experiencing.
What’s that other thing you always get at a Mediterranean restaurant that kind of disappoints you? Oh, right: kebabs. Or kabobs. Or k-bobs. It’s stuff on a stick and usually it’s lackluster.
Not so at Savory Bites. I got the combo kabob ($13.99) with chicken and kubideh (see also: kubedah, kubedeh, etc.) kabobs, rice and veggies.
Chicken seems like it should be the easiest meat to skewer and cook, but it takes skill to make meat that is cooked through without being cooked to death. Soaking the chicken in yogurt and spices gives it added moisture and flavor. A little time over the fire brings out a nice brown to the skin with little burned bits.
Kubideh is like a Mediterranean hamburger. Spiced ground beef is packed on a skewer and roasted. Too lean a meat or cooked too long and it’s like a bland rubber chew toy. Savory Bites lived up to its name with a kabob that is moist and flavorful, especially with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of saffron scented rice.
Mediterranean food is too often boiled down to just kabobs, gyros and hummus (all three of which I love, but still). So I was excited to try kuku sabzi ($5.99) with my only Persian friend, Marisa Mohi.
Marisa gently explained that kuku sabzi is like a very green frittata, in some ways. Chopped and spiced greens (spinach, collards, etc.) are mixed with egg and baked until solid, then cut into slices.
I’m not going to say that kuku sabzi is my favorite, because it isn’t, and you deserve the truth. Much as I love to try new foods, not all of them instantly click for me. This is a healthy and bright dish, made better with a touch of lemon and plenty of rice. But the texture is a bit spongy and that was kind of off-putting. Your mileage may vary and I encourage you to try for yourself and let me know what you think.
In contrast, the soup ($2.99) was just what I needed on a rainy day. Lots of vegetables and greens in a creamy soup with chicken and rice may sound dull, but the spicing brought it to life. It’s incredibly rich and filling — the kind of thing a normal person would order by itself and be completely satisfied. Thank goodness I’m not like that.
I still had room for olivieh ($5.99). It’s a sandwich filled with…well…huh. There’s egg salad and potato salad and chicken salad. And olivieh is kind of all three of them mixed together. Lots of creamy mayonnaise. It’s almost certainly not a diet dish, but it’s delicious and very summery. If you don’t like mayo, steer clear.
Savory Bites is a bit out of the way for me, but I’m willing to make a drive for food and people this nice. If you’re in south OKC or Moore, this should be a go-to spot for gyros and kabobs. For the rest of us, it’s a short drive, but well worth it. Have you been? Let me know what you think in the comments.
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