- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

“You haven’t had a gyro until you’ve had ours,” the menu promises at Chris’s Charcoal Pit in Annapolis. It is a promise fulfilled.

The gyro is bursting with food and flavor. Thin slices of the traditional beef and lamb are hearty and flavorful. Tangy feta cheese sparks your taste buds, countered by loads of smooth tzatziki, a sauce made of yogurt, cucumber and garlic.

Lettuce, tomato and onion make it a full meal, held together by a wonderfully soft pita. Expect a mess when eating it — and that is part of the joy. This gyro, for which the restaurant is best known, costs $7.25 — or $14.95 for the platter, which comes with a small Greek salad and french fries.

Specializing in authentic Greek and Italian fare, this small restaurant on outer West Street delivers large portions, whether it is an original gyro, hot or cold sub, pizza or one of the dozen or so Greek or Italian entrees.

Sotirios “Chris” Christoforou built the restaurant from a carryout and expanded it to a full-time restaurant, a genuine good-eats joint. It has been an Annapolis institution for more than 30 years and has never changed the heart of its menu, although different fish, chicken and meat plates are listed on a board of specials.

For customers wanting neither beef nor lamb on their gyro, the restaurant makes one with chicken, preparing it in the same method as the traditional gyro but with a honey mustard sauce instead of tzatziki.

Athenian Delight ($14.95) is marinated chicken breast shish-kebab style, served over pita bread. This is a delight for the diner who enjoys grilled chicken, tzatziki and warm pita.

Papoutsakia ($14.95) is traditionally stuffed eggplant, but the Chris’s version is served on long boats of thickly sliced zucchini instead. A rich bechamel sauce with ground lamb covered the tender zucchini, and all of this was served on a bed of yellow rice. The flavor was very mild, making it a homey, comforting dish.

Pastichio ($14.95) is a Greek-style lasagna. Unlike most versions we have had, though, this was covered with tomato sauce. Most agreed it would have been preferred with more bechamel and no tomato.

All platters come with a small Greek salad made of lettuce, olives, anchovies, feta cheese, pepperoncini, tomatoes, green peppers, dressing, cucumbers and onions.

The kitchen’s chicken rice soup is considered legendary — and some customers claim it has medicinal benefits.

The vegetable crab soup ($3.50 a cup), however, was a disappointment. The vegetables were flavorless and overcooked. Small pasta shells were added to the soup, but they just made it thick and starchy.

Italian specialties include four varieties of spaghetti, veal Parmigiana and meat ravioli.

Some very good New York-style pizza and hot and cold subs fill out the four-page menu.

Desserts include small nibbles like baklava; kataifi, which looks like it is wrapped in shredded wheat; cannoli; rice pudding; and cheese, carrot and chocolate cakes. All are made fresh.

Baklava is wonderful, with many crispy layers of phyllo dough, a generous filling of chopped walnuts and just the right amount of rich, gooey honey. Sinful.

Krema karamela ($2.75) is a light flan with caramel sauce. The sauce was an intoxicating dark liquid that complemented the reserved flavor of the flan. The texture could have been a little creamier, though.

Rice pudding is a thick cinnamon custard filled with rice and plump, sweet golden raisins. No one wants mushy rice in his pudding, but a few of the grains were a little too hard. A drizzle of cream over the top added a nice touch.

A small wine list contains labels from Greece, Cyprus, Italy and California, all available by the glass or bottle.

Even with all the recent and future growth of the West Street area, (Park Plaza, Annapolis Town Center) Chris’s is sure to remain a favorite destination for diners young and old.

RESTAURANT: Chris’s Charcoal Pit, 1946 West St., Annapolis; www,chrischarcoalpit.com, 410/266-5200

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

PRICES: Soups and salads $3.50 to $12.95; sandwiches $5.75 to $7.25; pizzas $5.25 to $17.95; entrees $11.95 to $15.95; desserts $2.25 to $3.75

CREDIT CARDS: No credit cards, cash only; ATM available

PARKING: On-site

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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