Spice on the side
It’s all about gyros at Sultan’s Bistro
Sultan’s Bistro300 Broadway
Chico, CA 95928
Whatever you call it—gyros, doner kebab, shawarma, “Arabian taco”—the taco-like creation made of a thick pita folded in half and filled with thinly sliced, lightly spiced meat cut from a log sizzling on a rotating spit—is one of the most ubiquitous street/fast-food items in the world. And in downtown Chico, one place that has become synonymous with the dish is Sultan’s Bistro.
The little restaurant-without-walls is located in the busy, central walkway area of the first floor of the red-brick Phoenix Building. Hearing that the place had come under new ownership in May 2008, I popped in during a recent weekday lunch hour to pick up a gyro.
At Sultan’s they spell it “gyro” (roughly pronounced “yee-ro”), and it comes in two forms: Athens style (on a pita, $6.25) and the larger Istanbul style (on Turkish flatbread, $8.75). In addition to the regular sliced beef/lamb combo, halal beef (meat that has been processed in accordance with Muslim law) is available for no extra cost. Chicken, vegetarian or falafel gyros also are available.
I picked up my Athens-style gyro (lamb/beef) and Knudsen’s raspberry spritzer after my name was shouted out over the chatter of patrons and Mediterranean music on the overhead speakers, and tucked in. The pita was warm, chewy and comforting, and the sandwich was loaded with fresh produce (lettuce, cabbage, tomato and red onion), feta cheese and the tangy yogurt-based tzatziki sauce. At the risk of sounding pedestrian, my gyro was plain yummy.
The following day I stopped by to satisfy my sweet tooth with a couple of pieces of delicious, syrupy, nutty baklava ($1.75 each) and a Pepsi. I had been thinking about baklava since the previous day.
Sultan’s Bistro’s menu of Turkish and Greek items also includes shish kebabs ($9.25-$11.50), burgers (including veggie, $5.75-$7.15) and meat-and-Basmati-rice platters of various sorts, such as the Kubideh, made with two seasoned ground-beef kebabs served over rice with salad and pita ($10.50).
I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Farzad Kashtiban (who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Tamara), while his brother, Fari Kashtiban, ran the register and cleaned tables.
Some may recognize Farzad, who moved to the United States from Iran in 1977, from his early days in Chico as a waiter at the now-defunct Lyon’s Restaurant, or from his eight-year stint as assistant general manager of Applebee’s, or maybe from his most recent job as food-and-beverage and banquet manager at Canyon Oaks Country Club for the past eight years.
“My dream was to run a family business,” said Kashtiban, “but to use the corporate ideas I learned from the places I have worked.” Kashtiban comes to work at 8 a.m., seven days a week, to achieve consistency and freshness in the food that Sultan’s serves.
Kashtiban buys all of his produce at S&S Produce, and he makes his own tzatziki and baba ghanouj—a seasoned Arabic eggplant dip served with pita bread ($4.95). He also spent time in Turkey and says that his tzatziki “is as close to what you can get in Turkey as you can find in America.”
While parts of the restaurant—the woodwork, the door into the kitchen—are worn and could do with a little sprucing up, Kashtiban is not falling short on his aim as he described it: “To serve fast, friendly, fresh food.”