While they don’t have the popularity of a hot dog or Italian beef, gyros are a pretty common item to see at local stands around Chicago. If I’m not in the mood for an encased meat or dipped beef, then a gyro is what I reach for. This season, Potbelly wants me to know it has me covered, with a limited-time-only Gyro Flat featuring both lamb and beef strips, feta, onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki (cucumber yogurt) sauce, all on a pita-like flatbread. Could this gyro possibly stack up to my local mom-and-pop shop?
I mean, on paper the thing sounds just fine, and given that this isn’t the first time Potbelly has released this sandwich (it was briefly released in 2018, according to Restaurant News), it must have had some modest level of success. In the photos, the shaved meat of the Gyro Flat looks the way it should: like it was sliced right from a giant log, much like the gyro meat at a greasy spoon spot. How different could it be?
To answer that question, I went to my nearest Potbelly location to pick up a Gyro Flat, then grabbed a gyro from the nearest hot dog stand in my neighborhood to see if the two sandwiches were comparable in any way.
How does Potbelly’s Gyro Flat stack up to a Chicago hot dog stand gyro?
I first took a bite of the Gyro Flat from Potbelly. It was fine. All the flavors were there, the familiar notes of the spiced lamb and beef melding with its meatloaf-like texture, while the yogurt sauce, onions, and tomatoes provided a fresh, cooling end to each bite. I barely noticed the feta, even though I watched as the person who assembled it applied a generous amount. The whole sandwich was also oddly soft because of the thin, floppy flatbread. Overall it definitely read like a gyro, but without any personality.
Then I tried a bite of the local version from a place called J’s Corner Hot Dogs, where I could see the vertical spit in the back. Oh man, there was simply no comparison. All the elements of the mom-and-pop gyro had a much bigger flavor, from the meat to the veggies and the tzatziki. Not only that, but it was significantly cheaper. The Gyro Flat was $9.99 by itself, while the one from my neighborhood was $7.49, plus it included fries.
Having tasted it first, I truly gave the Gyro Flat the benefit of the doubt. I’d initially thought that the two couldn’t be that far off from each other, considering the ingredients are very similar—but I was very wrong. Every aspect of the Gyro Flat was just a muted version of the corner classic. Would it be an okay substitute if you’re craving one? Yes, but I can’t say it would scratch that itch that only a gyro can, since it’s honestly pretty boring. Plus you’d be out an extra $2.50.
It’s likely, of course, that I’m simply spoiled. Living in a big city has its perks. If I’m in the mood for something in particular, I can just hop out and get a gyro that meets my specifications nearly whenever, which I don’t take for granted one bit.
If I found myself at Potbelly for a work lunch or something, I’d go for one of the sandwiches or salads from the usual menu instead (I did enjoy the limited-time Cubano, but that has now been replaced by the Gyro Flat). If you’re in the mood for the real thing, it’s worth going out of your way to buy one from your local independently owned gyro shop or hot dog stand. Not only are you supporting a small business that way, you’re also getting a much better sandwich. And usually some fries.