Espèria Grill & Rotisserie

Come for the gyros, stay for the pizza, lamb shanks, subs, etc . . .
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 17, 2009

GYRO HERO: The chicken gyro at Espèria is perfectly browned and roasted — an amazing revelation at an unbeatable price.

Espèria Grill & Rotisserie | 344 Washington Street, Brighton | 617.254.8337 | | Open Monday–Saturday, 11 am–11 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | beer and wine | street-level access | small parking lot in front.
The Center House of Pizza was a regular neighborhood pizza place for more than 20 years, and then, two years ago, suddenly changed its name to Espèria and put up a sign for rotisserie. It still looks from the outside like a take-out joint, so it was by chance that I wandered in for lunch and found lots of seating and the most amazing chicken gyro I've ever tasted ($7.95/pita; $11.95/dinner with two side dishes and a Greek salad). I came back with reinforcements for supper, and with darkness softening the corners of the room, probed further into what turns out to be a terrific dinner menu at unbeatable prices.

"Gyro" (pronounced yee-row) is anything — classically, lamb or lamb loaf, but chicken is increasingly popular — turned on a spit (like a gyroscope, right Bunky?) and cut off in strips. No matter the meat, its surface should be crisp, so that when the crust is sliced off, what goes into your pita is all burnt ends and caramelized bits, mixed up with feta cheese and a little salad. It's all the more luscious if the pita is the thinner, no-pockets Greek style, but the roasted-crust flavor is the real issue. I've been through yards and yards of soft gyro, shawarma, and döner kebab before happening upon one sufficiently browned and roasted. It was a revelation. The pork version here ($7.95; $11.95) comes pretty close.

The feel at lunch is that of a big sub shop, where they somehow have all this great looking food in glass deli cases. At dinner, we still go up to the counter to order, but one begins to register the space between tables, the pleasant service, those color photos of the Parthenon that always make my mouth water, the lingerability of a real restaurant. The pizzas and the subs are still there, and some are sent out for delivery as we dine. But we are focused on another time and place and flavor — specifically that of baked lamb shanks ($14.95), cooked to falling-off-the-bone tenderness in a tomato sauce. The usual allspice favored by immigrant families from northern Greece and parts of what is now Turkey is absent, perhaps because half of the cook-owner couple comes from the south of the country. Mousaka ($11.95) is made with both potatoes and eggplant, generally subtler than most I've had. You can order mashed potatoes or, better, roast potato slices with it and no one will look at you oddly.

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