Food Dude

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Of gyros and existential crisis

by Dave Cathey Modified: May 14, 2014 at 2:25 pm •  Published: May 14, 2014
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Nina Bastani’s passion for art and cooking is apparently boundless.

In today’s edition (May 14) of The Oklahoman and on NewsOK.com, we published a story about Zorba’s Mediterranean Cuisine, which has got to be the city’s most successful purveyor of gyros sandwiches, now into its 21st year under that name.

I have a unique personal history with Zorba’s, though not with owners Ray and Nina Bastani and their cousin Mark Javedi. No, it’s personal simply because I have been eating there since the days when it was called Abadan and it has played a profound role in my love of food.

But when the restaurant moved, I had misgivings. Back in 2009, I even wrote a blog about Zorba’s, which ends with me questioning whether Zorba’s had changed all that much or if I had.
Well, after spending an afternoon with the Bastani’s, witnessing their conviction for serving beautiful delicious foods I can say unequivocally that any misgivings I might’ve had about the place when it moved in 2007 lie with me.

What I didn’t write in 2009, is Zorba’s played such a large role in my daily life it became the setting for a short story I wrote in 2002 when I was getting my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma. The story was about a copyeditor (which I was at the time) who was in an existential crisis (which I’ve been in perpetually since I was old enough to ask, “Why?”) over being made to determine what facts would be published in obituary about a prominent local figure. The story began and ended in a Mediterranean restaurant, which was based on Zorba’s. In fact, the idea for the story came as I sat in the one-sided booth next to the window, most likely with the Sports page of USA Today spread out on the table under an empty platter, while I glanced up to read the closed captioning coming from Chuck Roberts on the small television screen hanging over the dining room.

Back in 2009, I had an inkling changes in me were more to blame for any misgivings than any changes at Zorba’s, and today I can confirm those suspicions. Today I can tell you, I don’t miss Zorba’s being in an old Taco Tico, I miss being young and ignorant to just how unrelentingly finite life truly is.

A sunny afternoon seated by the window with a perfect Gyros Supreme, fries, a soda and an extra side of Tzatziki sauce with only twenty-four years in my rearview and extrapolating on how I will build on them is what I miss.

The good news is I can at least relive those simpler days. In preparation for the story, I went to Basil for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. I was happy to see the menu was a mirror image of the original Zorba’s location. I was even happier to find window-side seating for one at a small counter. There wasn’t room to spread out a newspaper nor a television to watch and lament the direction HNN has taken, but there was plenty of room to scroll my smartphone and enjoy the flavors I associate with the joy of youth.

Just have plenty of napkins, tzatziki sauce is terrific for slathering on 80-20 beef/lamb slices, French fries and existential doubts, but it’s hell on iPhones.


by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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