People may often assume at Zankou Chicken, since the food is prepared usually under ten minutes, that we also make the food quickly. Well, contrary to popular belief, the food at Zankou takes a long time to prepare. The beets are marinated for days before they become those pink-hued pickles everyone loves. It’s both an art and a science to make sure its both tart enough to be ready but still crisp and fresh and not too soft after marinating in salt and vinegar.
We prepare the whole chickens in a unique way. The chickens roast for about 90 minutes in intense heat. The heat is reflected off charcoal blocks, and the fact that the oven is closed creates an inferno that caramelizes the skin. It’s his crispy skin that customers have grown to love over the years, something that tastes exceptional delicious when wrapped with pieces of chicken in pita bread and garlic. The garlic sauce is the icing on the well-prepared and crispy cake, the perfect fresh topping to roasted skin and flesh.
People that eat our chicken all the time know those secret parts: there is a piece of juicy meat just between the leg and thigh that is probably the most delicious part of the chicken. Both parts meat and muscle, it’s juicy layer of fat is so addicting. When I’m super hungry I usually devour that first, and then of course the rest of the chicken which is much healthier but never tasting as great as that one juicy piece.
I also love that one bite in the leg, the one that protrudes in the photos and is often full of juicy dark meat. Of course white meat is healthier for us and contains less fat content and more protein per ounce. This is probably why we have many trainers and body builders ordering quarter white plates at Zankou or chicken kabob plates. But nothing compares to the taste of juicy dark meat. My favorite part of the breast is what you would not expect: the crispy, burned wings. The burned wings are edible, although you do have to be careful because at the end of the day we are eating a bird’s bone. That crispy, flaky wing is almost like those spicy Mexican candies, full of sugar and fat and spice.
The kabobs take ten minutes to grill, but they take many more hours to make. The chicken and beef are both marinated separately in a variety of exotic, wonderful, earthy spices. These spices are so unique they are brought to us from all over the Mediterranean world, from the far corners of earth including Syria and Lebanon. We mix those with all American, fresh herbs and spices, as well as with fresh onions, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar. The meats are marinated to perfection, waiting for each customer to come so they can be grilled and served. Unlike other places, we don’t cook these meats beforehand. They are always fresh, never frozen, and only cooked to perfection after being ordered. So in essence, you could say each meal served at Zankou Chicken is in some kind of way a totally unique experience. Therein lies the art and science, how to make each meal predictable consistent while providing the customer the unique, custom-made experience they deserve. Indeed, with thousands of variations, it’s possible to come to Zankou and have a different dining experience each time, and (hopefully) never be disappointed.
What gives the Chicken Tarna and Tri-Tip shawerma it’s great taste is the fact that we use the finest quality meats. While other places use flash-frozen, pre-packaged gyro, we make the shawerma fresh, by hand. Most Greek restaurants don’t do this. I was at the annual Chicago Food show held McCormick Place this year and saw a few Greek vendors. People loved the gyros that were being passed out with that cucumber sauce we have all grown to love, the famous “Taziki” sauce. Greeks use fresh garlic, yogurt, and minced cucumbers to make this sauce. It’s a great tasting sauce. At Zankou we like to keep it more simple and don’t use the cucumber or yogurt but opt to just use “Tahini” sauce, a sauce that’s also made with fresh garlic and sesame. Sesame is sometimes used as an ingredient in Taziki sauce and sometimes it’s not. Not only that but herein lies the problem with many of those Greek places: their gyro is pre-made, frozen, and packaged and sold to franchises as one large slab.
That’s why you will often see employees at Greek restaurant using motorized knives. These knives “shave” a slab off the spit and serve it with fluffy bread and Taziki sauce. It still tastes good but often comes with heartburn because, at the end of the day, you are eating frozen meat that’s been prepared well in advance.
Not so at Zankou. We make the slabs of shawerma and Tarna by hand, all natural and always fresh. That means there is a little bit of variation in terms of the large sizes of meat placed on the spit, because this is natural meat that’s placed there by hand. It’s not one large slab, and it’s not ever been frozen. At Zankou we strive to be different, and I believe this, more than anything else, separates us from the competition. The fact that we go the extra mile and make everything fresh for the customer. When the shawerma and Tarna burn beside the spit, the ends are often caramelized. This gives it a naturally sweet flavor, as the burned parts are sweetened and caramelized while the rest is still spicy. It’s this sweet and spicy texture that keeps many customers come back.
The Mutabbal is made fresh every morning with grilled organic eggplants. These eggplants are cooked on an open flame until they are rich and smoky, giving off a delicious yet naturally smoky flavor you can’t get otherwise. They are then mixed with fresh sesame seed oil and garlic, creating the world’s freshest and tastiest organic Mutabbal (baba-ganoush).
The Luleh kabob is made with fresh ground beef and pepper, parsley, and other herbs. These herbs are rich, earthy, and aromatic. We use salt, black pepper, and fresh minced onions to give the Luleh kabob that spicy flavor people have grown to love. The chicken kabob is made with red pepper, red wine vinegar, and onions as well. It’s so fresh and tender the meat sometimes falls off the skewer. When combined with the fresh-roasted tomato, these chicken kabobs give off the best BBQ flavor of all. Speaking of BBQ flavor, the secret of kabob is the smoke. The sizzling smoke gives the meat that delicious taste, reminizcent of a Texas BBQ or the best stake houses.
As for the Falafel, we have a whole new recipe we are now trying at our Pasadena store. It includes fresh Jalapeño, cilantro, and other wonderful spices mixed with chickpeas. Falafel is always tasty when it’s made fresh to order. That’s why we’ve recently changed our policy and only make falafel when people order it. Yes, it does take a little bit longer, but having it fresh off the boiler, crispy and fresh, is worth it.