Uncle Gussy’s is the O.G. Souvlaki Truck
I am eagerly anticipating the Midtown debut of the Souvlaki GR truck, this year’s Vendy Rookie of the Year winner. It seems like something truly unique in an increasingly varied Midtown street food scene. As it turns out though, someone is already serving up Greek pork souvlaki right here in Midtown… the old school, new look Uncle Gussy’s (on 51st and Park Ave.) As you know from the letter they sent us last week, Uncle Gussy’s has been in business for 39 years (Nick, the owner, took it over from his uncle- natch), and recently they upgraded to a truck that makes them look more new school. Gussy’s chicken and lamb over rice failed to distinguish itself in Street Meat Palooza 3 (their first appearance) with a 12th place finish, but what we didn’t realize is they also serve souvlaki comparable to what you can get from the fabled Astoria vendors (his cousin Frank actually runs the famous souvlaki cart on Steinway).
Astoria style souvlaki, on the streets of Midtown?! This is pretty huge news indeed.
When I showed up yesterday there was a line of roughly 20 people, which Nick said has been pretty standard since a few weeks after they switched to a truck. They’ve also created a Twitter account (just like all the new schoolers), and the truck upgrade has allowed them to start serving specials made by the owner’s mom (how cool is that!? Today she made spanakopita.)
Daily specials aside, Gussy’s has a somewhat typical street meat vendor menu, but with a decidedly Greek slant. Most notable to me was that they serve some kind of sausage and that you can get any of their sandwiches on pita or Italian bread. I’d love to try a sausage or gyro on Italian bread at some point, but this trip was all about pork souvlaki.
Their pork souvlaki pita is $4. I tried to add extra meat for $1 and get a side of pita for another $1, which I planned to later turn into a second, stripped down sandwich, but I guess he misunderstood and gave me a separate souvlaki on a stick. (It all came to $8.)
The full sandwich is a lot like what you can get at any vendor, but some small things make a big difference. The meat is big, moist chunks of pork with a very slight char around the edges. Most of them were pretty lean, but a few were rife with pork fat deliciousness. The grilled pita was also a nice touch. It was perfectly warmed, fluffy and tastier all by itself than I’ve come to expect from cheap pita sandwiches. I’m always happy to get some tzatziki instead of white sauce. Gussy’s version is pretty good, although not particularly flavorful (letting the meat shine!)
This was my “extra meat” and while it doesn’t look like much, it was all I really needed (although I wish I’d managed to save some tzatziki). The meat and pita were each wrapped in their own tin foil and they were both still piping hot when I got to them even though I ate the sandwich first (in fact they were hotter than in the sandwich, which gets cooled down by the sauce and vegetables).
The pita was already cut into quarters and I had five chunks of pork, making it very easy to use the pita to simply slide the meat off the stick (and leaving me one bonus piece of pork). The meat and pita were my favorite part of the sandwich anyway, and here their flavors seemed were more pronounced, unencumbered by lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki. Call it addition by subtraction.
All in all, it was a very satisfying lunch. I’ve never been to those legendary Astoria vendors, so I have no idea if this is as good. But it definitely stands out from all the other kebab and pita vendors here in the city, and I’m overjoyed I didn’t have to trek out to Queens for it.