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Sep 23, 2010 05:04 AM

Confessions Of A Tampa Foodie

When I think of Mediterranean food I don't think chain store. I think of a mom and pop operation where they serve up food just like their grandma used to make. Even the upscale Mediterranean places seem to be family owned and operated, and they don't usually last.

My first taste of Pita Republic's food was at the Brandon location. Having had some absolutely horrific gyros at some downtown Tampa restaurants, I had low expectations but walked away full and happy. My only complaint was that this place, just all of the other places I had tried sliced the meat so thin. It's was like eating gyros flavored bacon slices, but if the tzatziki sauce was good, I figured this was as good as it gets in Tampa.

One day when I was having a severe craving for a gyros, I spotted this place on Hillsborough Ave and decided to give it a try. I knew this was different from the Brandon one as soon as I stepped through the door. There on a vertical spit was a perfectly shaped mountain of ground lamb and turning slowly. The owner/manager Robbie sliced nice thick slices onto a pita, topped it with veggies and white tzatzik sauce and sent me straight to gyros heaven. If you're a feta fan, for .50 you can get more feta than Publix will sell you for $3.00. The meat was tender,spicy and juicy, unlike those sliced up gyros. I was a very happy foodie.

I asked Robbie how come all the other Republics didn't cook their meat like he did. He explained that some food law made it illegal for new restaurants to have that type of rotisserie but his shop was older and was grandfathered in to keep it. Yay! Since then I stop by a few times a month. The Avocado -n- Chicken is also a great choice and although I am not a vegetarian and do not understand anyone who is one, the hummus and falafel are winners too. So I said hello Town and Country and good-bye Brandon.

So, next time you have a gyro attack or want something that's tasty and healthy, yes it does exist, give the Pita Republic on Hillsborough a try. Now if I could find a place that uses pita pocket bread instead of the flat ones I'd be ecstatic. If anyone knows of such a place in Tampa, let me know and I'll check it out. Until then, happy eating.

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  1. nice, will check it out. There is a place on Kennedy toward downtown I think it's called Salem Gyros? I had one from there that I was expecting to be crap but it was close-your-eyes-awesome. The meat was cut thick, it had amazing flavor, and the tzatziki sauce was great too. I need to go get one of those again, it's been a year or so, but if they're still that good I just made myself all excited.

    12 Replies
    1. re: askdrtodd

      Yes its Salem's. Souh side of Kennedy. I can't think of the cross street, even though I drove by it this morning.

      1. re: askdrtodd

        Please disregard my previous reply, I went to Salem's today, expecting it to be awesome, and it was pretty mediocre. They had the Gyro or the "Super Mega Gyro" (which you know there was no was I could refuse ordering), regardless, I asked the person taking my order "What's the Super Mega Gyro?" and he said it was "like the mac daddy gyro with lots of vegetables and stuff" which struck me as odd but sold me nonetheless. When I got it, I couldn't even see the pita bread, there was a PILE of thinly shaved shiny greasy mess with the occasional banana pepper and a few green pepper chunks. Tons of cheap black olive slices too. The meat didn't taste bad, but was no better than any other gyro I'd ever had, and a bit rubbery, certainly not worthy of the super-mega title. Sadly they even pronounce it "Gyro" (phonetically) rather than yee-roh as I am pretty sure it should be pronounced, not surprising though after 3 of the 3 customers that came in while I was there did the same. This is food I would likely eat again only were I miserably hung over.

        1. re: askdrtodd

          I say eee-roh. Husband says Jye-roh. I am from fl he is from NY. Anyway, fun dialect differences. Sorry your lunch was not wonderful ;-)

          1. re: askdrtodd

            i grew up in NY calling them "Gyros" (phonetically; ji-roe); except for in Astoria, which is Queens' answer to Tarpon Springs. The Greek pronunciation is "yee-roh", but most run-of-the-mill humans say Gyro (ji-roe). it's only the Greeks and Foodies who say it the way it should be said. :)

              1. re: askdrtodd

                i agree with rhnault, she's from florida, says eeeero. hubby from NY says ji-roe. i don't know what the heck i'm trying to say. LOL

                1. re: Manderley

                  This is turning out to be as fun as the thread where we talked about how we pronounce "China Yuan". I say China "yen". John says China "juan" like a Spanish guy and Andy says China "you-awn".

                  1. re: rhnault

                    i say china you-awn. :) but i also say Noo Yawk.

            1. re: askdrtodd

              i was puzzled when you wrote such glowing things about Salem's, who have the most mundane gyros and other foods. They have opened most of their locations to cater to the poorest areas of town. After a couple tries, I gave up on them long ago.

              Most gyro logs are all made at the same factory in Chicago, and are too salty for my taste, not matter how well they are browned. So I typically avoid gyros as industrial garbage. Nothing at Salem's or Pita's has made me change my mind.

              If i want a great mideast wrap, I go to Byblos. The one near USF is so easy and reasonable, and you get to top it your way. Had a gyro and falafal there recently and surprisingly preferred the falafal.

              Just had a great lunch at Sahara today, momma is cooking again after a rest break. Love the kofta wrap, spinach pies, Lebanese sampler and great-great falafal. Love their fries and rosewater iced tea as well. Their lentil soup is a silky wonder to behold. Their gyros are better than most, but still can't compete with the items mentioned above.

                1. re: andy huse

                  Andy- you're dead on man. I'm not sure what I was smoking that day, but it clearly substantially skewed my palette. I'm glad I went back in today to clear that up, that place was pretty miserable.

                  On another note, you've got me pretty interested in the USF Byblos, is Ida the owner of that one too? Is it similar to the one on Macdill? Always enjoyed eating there, as one of the owners of my company is Lebanese, and and from what I can tell the list of great Lebanese restaurants in the bay area is a short one.

                  1. re: askdrtodd

                    Not sure about ownership, I talk to the guy all the time. He much prefers running the USF location because of the simplicity of the model. I prefer grabbing a wrap to being waited on. all wraps are $5 after 5pm, and all weekend they are a dollar off, whith gyros and falafal for $4.

            2. Just went to a place called Gengiz Khan on s McDill last night with a friend who swore by it and I was blown away. Had the gyro platter over rice and came with homemade pita to make your own gyros. Best gyro ever had, looked like the meat was thinly sliced leg of lamb seared and crispy and moist, just great.

              Also had some falafel and again, best I ever had. Instead of the typical dry, grainy texture, this was soft and stuck to your teeth in a good kind of way, very tasty. Highly recommended.

              Gengiz Khan Restaurant
              6102 S MacDill Ave Ste C, Tampa, FL 33611

              1 Reply
              1. re: ElGimpo

                I really enjoyed Gengiz Khan when the wife and I went, we ordered their hot appetizer sampler and their cold appetizer sampler and there was no way that we could finish them both between the two of us. Both were reasonably priced and quite tasty. I'm happy they've made it thru the recession thus far, I never have driven past that place and seen it busy...

                Gengiz Khan Restaurant
                6102 S MacDill Ave Ste C, Tampa, FL 33611