We’re told by the staff at St. Paul's newish Naughty Greek that in Athens, the typical gyro is made with pork.
The faintest bit of research proves the Naughty Greek correct. Evidently, it’s difficult to find anything other than pork gyros outside of major Greek cities.That may come as a surprise to most Twin Citians, since we’re much more likely to find lamb, beef, or even chicken in our gyros, shawarma, and kebabs.
The giant cones of pork at the Naughty Greek are a dramatic vision. Bigger, fattier, and drippier than their leaner beef and lamb counterparts, these are a sight for hungry eyes. Yet, we’re not thoroughly convinced that pork is a better choice for a gyro. Maybe we’re too stubbornly traditional, but it’s a bit like imagining pork on a burger bun instead of beef: fun for a diversion but not lifetime relationship-worthy. (Perhaps Greek eaters feel the same way about lamb on their pita.)
Pork gyros are far from the only thing the restaurant does; there’s a full menu of additional temptations to be had, including the Wicked Meat Platter (pictured) with lamb chops, pork gyro, chicken souvlaki, and your choice of beef or lamb kebab.
Lamb is their sleeper hit. The chops are butter-knife tender, and the two-bone portion instantly renders them meat currency. You’ll be trading lamb for pork with your dining companion in no time. The lamb kebab, a kofta-style tender bite, is impeccably seasoned and by far the best bite of the plate.
The Naughty Greek: Go for the pork, stay for the lamb.
Side dishes were done with similar care and precision. A lettuce-less Greek salad comes with ruby wedges of ripe tomatoes, green fingers of peppers, and cucumber half-moons. A dramatic cap of quality Greek Feta makes this beauty of a thing worth its $8.50 price tag.
The "salacious" eggplant spread (who could say no?) is a fresher version of baba ganouj, bright and lively, though we did miss the addictive smoke of the more classic preparation.
Take heed and order a full portion of the addictive tzatziki, made with strained, full-fat Greek yogurt, luscious and rich as cheese, with the fresh addition of garlic and cuke. This is most definitely not the stuff in a tub many other places are content to serve. This is what freshly baked bread is to a Wonder loaf.
The wee, fast-casual space is bright white and blue like the flag of the country that inspires it, and the service is equally ebullient and eager to share, suggesting a cheery work environment and quality product. TNG is an irresistible addition to the Merriam Park/Hamline neighborhood.
Price points are very fair, generally in that under $10 sweet spot, though prices go up for shareable portions. I’m also happy to report that meats are available by the quarter-, half-, and full pound. A pound or more of those kebabs will make you the most popular guy at the party.
What else? Greek wine by the glass and by the bottle, and even Greek-style mini donuts, yeasty puffs lacquered in thyme honey, cinnamon, and powdered sugar.
They’re a sweet ending to a sweet place, nothing naughty about it.
181 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul