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Gyros at Twenty Paces: The Greek Takeout Duel

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We’ve been reading a lot on Chowhound.com about Santorini, the new Greek restaurant in Sleepy Hollow that’s challenging Lefteris Gyro’s primacy in Westchester’s Greek restaurant market. If you believe the posts on that site (most notably here and here), you’d think that Santorini is the best thing to hit Greek food since sheep on a stick. In fact, there have been so many unqualified raves about the joint that even the NY Times had to review it. Not surprisingly, Emily DeNitto gave Santorini a Very Good – which is about as high as can be expected for such a modest family venture. It looks like Lefteris’s monopoly of Greek food is simply over. Santorini is a force to be reckoned with.

Now, if there’s one thing we know as a reviewer, it’s that you can’t compare apples and oranges. Nor can you compare restaurants. Restaurants are as different as people, and each spot has different goals, a different spin and a different vibe—not to mention different architecture and setting. It’s just not possible to compare the two resulting dining experiences. However, we thought, pondering the two restaurants… we could compare two identical bags of takeout.

The Rules

We placed identical orders from both Santorini and Lefteris. (While both restaurants offer delivery, we’re outside of the range—as are most of our readers.) Each bag contained a standard Greek takeout order: hummus, a Greek salad, gyros and baklava. The two restaurants are roughly equidistant from our home, and we ate each meal as soon as we returned. We were careful to ensure, in other words, that we ate the food within equal amounts of elapsed time, since that can affect the food’s quality. We’re not going to compare the ambience of the restaurants, only their relative ease of picking up an order of takeout. We figure that this includes price, parking, how long we waited and how conveniently the food was packed. And, obviously, we’ll also compare taste.

The Pickup

Wait
Lefteris told us ten minutes, while Santorini told us twenty. Both restaurants had our orders ready when they promised, and we felt that twenty minutes (while the double of ten) is still a reasonably short time to wait for an order of takeout. We felt that in this category, Santorini and Lefteris are essentially at a draw, but those looking for an instant meal might want to head to Lefteris.

Parking
Anyone who knows Lefteris Gyro knows that parking on this hopping corner in downtown Tarrytown can be murder on a warm summer night. That said, there are several streets nearby in Tarrytown’s downtown nexus, all with curbside parking– plus, there are two public lots within a few blocks if you strike out on the street. The result is that while you might not park right out front, you can usually park within a minute’s walk of Lefteris Gyro.

Santorini is in the middle of a longish one way street, off the beaten track of Sleepy Hollow’s main drag of Beekman Avenue. If you can’t find parking out front on Valley (which we didn’t), you’ll have to drive around the block, pretty far out of your way. Plus you’re competing for spots with residents in this mixed-use neighborhood. We felt that Lefteris had better parking than Santorini.

Packing
With takeout, packing can be crucial. If your hot entrée wilts your salad, while the dressing leaks and stains your car seat, no matter how good the food was when it left the restaurant, it’ll be less good (or less well received) by the time you get it home.

The two bags we returned home with were packed identically, but with two crucial differences—the Lefteris salad dressing was packed in a small Solo cup, which was further wrapped in plastic. While this extra insurance wasn’t necessary this time—the Santorini dressing didn’t leak—we were comforted by Lefteris’s thoughtful gesture. Sadly, the Lefteris hummus came in a small plastic container that looked like it had been packed ahead and stored in the fridge—it was still icy cold when we got it home, which affected how well we liked it. We preferred the Santorini hummus, which was packed in a foil bottom/cardboard lid takeout container. It arrived room temperature, garnished with a pretty slick of olive oil and 4 Kalamata olives. It looked packed-to-order.

Price
There was a mere 85¢ difference in the two complete meals for two: the order (hummus, one small Greek salad, 2 gyros and one piece of baklava) came to $26.75 at Santorini and $25.90 at Lefteris. We’d call that a wash.

The Tastes

Hummus
As we just mentioned, we preferred the hummus from Santorini. Not only was it freshly packed, room temperature and gilded with oil and olives, it was pleasantly saltier, too. We couldn’t keep our hands off it, in fact, and dug into the corners of the foil container with bits of warm pita until the container was wiped sparkling clean.

On the other hand, the Lefteris hummus was tasty, but cold and firm. It simply wasn’t as luscious as Santorini’s version: Santorini wins hands down.

Greek Salad
While both small Greek salads contained lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions, olives, a couple of dolmas and feta cheese, they wound up tasting quite different. The Lefteris salad was larger than the Santorini salad–one of Lefteris’s small Greek salads could easily feed four as a first course– plus, it had more cubes of feta cheese. (And this is our favorite part of a Greek salad, we always pick out the cheese first.) Finally, the Lefteris salad dressing had what we referred to as the “crack factor”: it was addictive. We attribute this to it simply being very sugary, which acts as a palate foil for the salad’s tart vinegar, and salty olives and feta.

The Santorini salad dressing was more herb-laden, less sweet, and vastly cheesier–the dressing itself is packed with grated cheese. Santorini’s salad was smaller than the Lefteris salad, but it struck us as more sophisticated than Lefteris’s sugary version. It was more balanced, and less overwhelming for the start of a meal—it was simply a more thoughtful composition. That said, we’re ashamed to admit that we preferred the sweet Lefteris salad: it had that ineffable “crack factor,” a compelling sweet-saltiness that we just couldn’t resist. We’re not proud of this.

Gyro
We feel a bit unfair here, as Lefteris Gyro (as the name suggests) is a gyro joint first, and a Greek restaurant second. Santorini reverses that order, it is a Greek restaurant first that also happens to serve gyros. That means that the gyro comparison is playing to Lefteris’s strength, and, not surprisingly, Lefteris wins—with one notable caveat.

We preferred the Lefteris gyro because it was far meatier than Santorini’s sandwich, plus, the meat had been deliciously caramelized on the flat top griddle. Yet we preferred Santorini’s tzatziki sauce. Their tasty version of the gyro shmear—a traditional, yogurt-based cucumber sauce — was made with tangy, super thick and rich Greek yogurt loaded with lots of bright-tasting fresh herbs. Lefteris’s tzatziki was watery and anemic, adding only a touch of richness and almost no flavor to the already delicious sandwich. Santorini’s sprightly tzatziki made a bready/less meaty sandwich more compelling.

Baklava
Both baklava pieces arrived drizzled in honey and packed in Styrofoam clamshells—however, that’s where their similarity ends. The Santorini baklava was palpably seasoned with cinnamon, had crisp phyllo layers, with crunchy/chewy nutmeats and just the right amount of honey. In a word, Santorini’s baklava was delicious. The Lefteris version, conversely, was soggy, mealy, bland and oversweet: Santorini hands down.

The Result

Not surprisingly, the results of our Greek takeout duel were mixed. Next time, we’ll simply stick to gyros and salads at Lefteris, while we’ll range further over Santorini’s long menu — winding up with, perhaps, Santorini’s seasonal boiled dandelions or souvlaki. We’re glad that there was no clear winner, actually, because that means that there’s room in this county for two Greek takeouts.

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