Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Greek Wraps, Peoria AZ

Settling into the new house is going pretty well. The kitchen is ready for prime time, as is most of the house. The big game room in the back is currently finding use as an enormous walk-in storage unit. All of this busy work left me ready for a vacation, but those take a little planning and I wanted one NOW. Well, it's now past tense, so I suppose it would be better to say I wanted one RIGHT THEN, but that doesn't have the same punch as wanting it NOW, n'est-├že pas? Anyway, for the first time in several years there's actually a movie in theatres that I want to go see: Coraline in 3-D. I looked up movie times for it and it turns out that it's playing in 3-D at places all around the edge of town, plus Arizona Mills. Since I have friends up towards Peoria that I haven't seen in a while, I fired off an invitation to come see the movie with me and headed on my merry way up to the area of Arrowhead Towne Center.

A few moments after I picked up tickets for the late showing, my friends called to let me know that they already had people over but I was more than welcome to join them. Since I already had my ticket for the show, this was not an option. I now found myself with close to two hours to kill, and a completely open dance card. I stopped by the mall and made a beeline for See's to pillage the post-Valentine's Day chocolate. A couple of oversized chocolate Bordeaux hearts later, I found myself getting quite hungry. The food court looked as unappealing as ever, so I trekked out to survey the surrounding area.

A few moments of reconnaissance showed that selections in the area are awfully bleak. Turns out the Arrowhead area is the third circle of chain restaurant hell. Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang's, Chevy's, Buca di Beppo, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, you name it. Since I was on my own, I didn't want to succumb to mediocrity. I knew of a couple of places on the other side of the 101 along Union Hills, but I decided to see what I could find that was interesting and new. It turned out I wouldn't have to look for as long as I thought I would. There, tucked away in a strip mall (It's Arrowhead, there's nothing but strip malls and tract housing for miles!) on the southeast corner of 75th Avenue and Bell, was a decidedly non-chain looking sign for a place called The Greek Wraps. I pondered for a moment, decided gyros sounded like a tasty idea, and brought the Jestermobile in for a landing.

I arrived just in the nick of time, 15 minutes before closing. The place looked vaguely chain-y, but not overly so. I'd almost be willing to bet that a failed franchise (maybe two) didn't take root in the space, and all the new owners had to do was put up framed prints of the Greek isles. You wouldn't have guessed they were winding down the business day from the business level in the restaurant. There was a slow but steady stream of people coming in either for take-out or a quick sit-down bite. A look at the menu hanging over the counter showed the usual suspects: Shawarma, hummus, falafel, gyros, et cetera. The different offerings were available either as a sandwich (with sundry toppings, wrapped in pita bread; fries and drink are an optional extra) or as a plate (served with rice, hummus, and a small salad). The menu also showed something I was absolutely thrilled to see: They make their own pita bread. Not only do they make their own pita bread, they bake it fresh to order.

I perused the menu, and thought that steak shawarma ($6.99 for the 10" wrap; a smaller 7" pita is $5.75) sounded absolutely delicious. It's hard to resist when the menu says they use "The original recipe from back home". Turned out everyone else that day thought it sounded delicious too, as they were all out of it for the night. The chicken shawarma ($6.25 and $4.99, respectively) was made by the same recipe, so I went with that instead. A little extra nibble sounded nice, so I added on a falafel appetizer ($1 for two pieces). I put together an Arnold Palmer from the self-serve beverage machine (my only quibble is the iced tea is the pre-made Gold Peak instead of fresh-brewed), checked my watch to make sure I had enough time to make it to the theatre (I still had an hour to go), and a few minutes later my shawarma was ready.

The falafel was piping hot out of the fryer, just the way it should be. I think the fryer could have been a wee bit hotter as they were just a little bit oily, but not unpleasantly so. The shawarma was utterly divine. Their use of chicken thighs kept the meat flavorful and juicy. The shawarma marinade was vibrant, and the pita... oh, the pita. I can't even begin to tell you what a difference freshly made pita bread makes. I may have to come in for some hummus and a huge stack of pita bread some time soon, never mind that the place is 15 miles from my house. The fries were the archetype Greek restaurant fries, same ones you'll find at every other casual Greek place in town. They were hot and crisp, really can't ask much more than that from a fry, can you? All told, I was absolutely thrilled with the meal I had at The Greek Wraps. The people who run the place care about the product they put out, and it shows. I'm looking for any excuse to get back up towards Arrowhead just so I can try more things on the menu. Maybe I'll go see Coraline again...

Oh, speaking of Coraline, go catch it in theatres while you can... especially in 3D. It's a trip and a half.