Friday, October 30, 2009

Tom's Gyros and Burgers

Published in the Post Register in November, 2009.
First, let’s get one thing straight – the word “gyro,” when referring to the savory Greek sandwich, is pronounced “YEAR oh.”

Not “JIE roh” or “HEE roh,” or even “YEE roh.” Of course, the Greeks would pronounce it altogether differently, but we’re not in Greece, are we?

“They’re called everything in the book,” says Melanie Olsen, who helps manage Tom’s Gyros and Burgers in Idaho Falls.

Since 1989, Greek immigrants Tom and Dina Manolis have been serving gyros, hamburgers and other delicacies from their restaurant between North Yellowstone Highway and Holmes Avenue. They also have a restaurant in Pocatello and bought the former Wrangler Restaurant on Holmes a few years back, turning it into Tom’s 2.

A gyro is made from a combination of lamb and beef mixed with seasonings and baked, then shaved into strips before going into a soft pillow of pita bread, lettuce, tomatoes and a nice slathering of yogurt sauce. There is some controversy about the real origins of the gyros, but it appears that it is not exactly a traditional Greek dish – it probably has its origins in the Turkish Doner Kabab sandwich – but seems to have emerged in New York in the 1970s. The name likely comes from the fact that the meat is turned in the motion of a, yes, gyroscope. (We use as our authoritative source the web site “”)

Enough history of the food. The proof is in the eating, and a gyro sandwich is sloppy but delicious. More interesting is the history of the Manolis, who came to the U.S. as teenagers, he at 14, she at 18. In between, Tom Manolis was introduced to Dina on a return trip to Greece and the rest, as they say, is local culinary history. Their daughter, Ellie, was working at the restaurant the day of our visit.

There are people, we are told, who have been going to Tom’s for years and never eaten a gyro, preferring a cheeseburger instead. The closest you’re going to come to vegetarian fare at Tom’s is a pile of fries and gobs of fry sauce.

In the kitchen, 12-year veteran Teresa Kirkham is frying hamburgers through the flames of the grill as the late lunch crowd queues at the counter. Meanwhile, the gyro meat turns silently on its spit, awaiting another shave.

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