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Of gyros and existential crisis

Nina Bastani’s passion for art and cooking is apparently boundless.

In today’s edition (May 14) of The Oklahoman and on, 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.

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Related Photos
 Nina Bastani's passion for art and cooking is apparently boundless.

Nina Bastani's passion for art and cooking is apparently boundless.

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Dave Cathey

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. Read more ›