Lezzette Mediterranean Makes Darn Good Gyros and Salads
Gotta love gyros. Eternally mispronounced to the point of redoing the word itself (I’m 99.99% certain it’s meant to be pronounced like “heroes” and not as it seems) and shifting actual names depending on the region (gyros to Greece, doner kebab to the rest of the Mediterranean) there’s too many crappy ones out there. Lezzette Mediterranean Cucina, literally just around the corner from the biggest “shut up and take my money” location in Midtown Southwest, has been around for a few years and quietly served as a go-to point for the area. There’s a couple other standouts on West 34th St. that merit a look, but as far as I know, Lezzette stands alone for amazing fresh gyros and really, really worthwhile Mediterranean salad.
The space is small and lined with stuff. Before being asked to ditch the camera (quite well complied with, but the photos they didn’t see taken are mixed in as well) I was able to snap the area well. Just jutting out into the left foreground is a container full of sweets, both Turkish and conventional: baklava, black and white cookies, and even some macarons. More clearly visible on the left is a tossed-salad bar with some conventional-looking premade sandwiches and wraps.
The hot bar changes daily. Today’s options were mac & cheese, stuffed mushroom caps, jerk chicken, beef stew, mini pizzas, eggplant parm, chicken stew, and grilled salmon. On the right rear are some individually made shish kebabs and what appeared to be iskender kebabs. Oh yeah, that’s right – you guys didn’t come here for generic stuff, you came for the Turkish. Fear not.
Mediterranean salads by the pound! There’s 12 or 15 different choices, all of which look freaking amazing. I know this is going to sound way the hell out there for a Turkish restaurant, but don’t miss the guacamole – more on that in a moment.
This is what you get for $10.72 before tax and tip. Going over the ML limit was my own undoing and not the fault of Lezzette – I simply had to try the Mediterranean salad bar. At $5/lb it sounds like a bargain, but any by-the-pound salad bar contains the insidious draw of what you yourself bring to the table. Moderation is the key here if you’re just getting a side dish or two – caveat emptor, baby. Here I have guacamole, a stuffed grape leaf, a square of feta, and a schlog of hummus.
The guacamole was surprisingly good – not too thick and not too thin, with no sacrifice of chunkiness to allow the avocado to do its thing. It’s perfectly ripe and has just the right amount of lime and plenty of cilantro. It had bits and pieces that were a bit liquidy, but not too much. It may not be a tableside super-custom guac from a Mexican restaurant, but it goes far above expectations from a Turkish restaurant.
The hummus was on the thin side, tough to eat without some pita in which to dip. They don’t spare the garlic and it’s wonderful that they don’t. To be honest, I prefer my hummus thicker, so I have to ding them based on preference for that, but if you really appreciate good homemade hummus you owe it to yourself to get some of this to taste.
I started off wanting to like the feta more, and I ended up doing just that. It was a bit dry to the taste but there was some liquid to it, probably from being kept in water. It hits with a sharp sheeps-milky tang to it and gets salty over time before a really nice clean finish. Without sounding more like a cheese snob, it held itself together very well. This isn’t a crumbling feta meant to be a topping, this is a feta meant to stand on its own – which it does in spades.
What I really enjoyed was the stuffed grape leaf. It was non-meat for those who want to stay vegetarian or just don’t feel like meat, and it was a very good balance of tanginess and herby flavor. It eclipses Nick’s Place in terms of flavor but it was a bit too mashed together for my tastes. Still, I enjoyed it and definitely plan to grab a few every time I go.
This massive assemblage of a chicken gyro ($6.25) suffers from one major and immediately visible flaw: it’s a standard wrap. The amount of stuff thrown in pushes the wrap to capacity and it feels like it desperately wants nothing more than to break apart and spill the delicious contents everywhere, doubly so if you just got something you’re wearing back from the cleaners. Mine held up, but I undertook great care while eating it. If you plan to eat and walk a Lezzette gyro, you are herefore advised that it might be best to just bring it back to your office to eat, or to just grab a table.
The good news, though: I can find very few bad things to say about a chicken gyro from Lezzette other than the wrap itself. Sure, it’d be better with a nice big pita, but they do everything right here. They start off by actually using dark meat chicken. Do not let the absence of meat tornadoes sway you from ordering their gyros, for they substitute well with thinly sliced white and dark meat chicken, spiced and grilled to order. It’s done quite swiftly, at or near fast-casual restaurant speeds.
Thrown in with the well-optimized chicken is romaine lettuce, thin and garlicky yogurt sauce, tomatoes, some red onions, and if you want it, “spicy.” I didn’t get a chance to ask what the spicy stuff was but it wasn’t too much of a kick – just enough to awaken the back of the mouth and complement the dish well. Think of it as an offset to the creaminess of the garlic yogurt sauce. The lettuce was fresh, the tomatoes were decent, and the end result of everything had pools of juices that I struggled to pour back into the rapidly falling apart final half of the sandwich. Had someone given me a straw and I would have used it.
I really can’t praise Lezzette highly enough for value. I would have been stuffed from the gyro alone (and I didn’t want to ask why a Turkish restaurant calls it gyro and not doner kebab – but I’ll forgive it based on their quality) which ranks up with Troy Turkish Grill. I didn’t get to try a lamb gyro (none available today) but that’ll be the real determinant of who rules the Turkish roost in Midtown South. Price-wise they are both comparable in terms of sandwiches but if you’re going for a platter, Lezzette has them beat – $9ish vs. $11-14ish depending upon the order. Besides, the salad selection and pricing makes it a bigger draw.
The + (What somebody who likes this would say)
- Gyro perfection without a visible doner spinner!
- Variety beyond your usual basic Turkish fare
- Amazing salads and side dishes
- Great value for the money
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- My gyro exploded because the wrap couldn’t support its bulk and juice.
- Why is there guacamole at a Turkish restaurant, even if it’s good guacamole?
- Why do they even need a create-your-own salad bar and hot bar? Stick to the Turkish!
- Shouldn’t you be calling them doner kebab?
Lezzette, 369 West 34th (btw. 8th and 9th)