If you've eaten a gyro in Trumbull County in the last 30 years, there's a good chance John and Alex Vlahos made it.
Their Vlahos' Original Gyro stands are a familiar site at the Trumbull County fairgrounds and other area festivals and events, and John Vlahos' booming call of "Ye-roh, Ye-roh, Ye-roh'' was a fixture for decades at Noon in the Park and now can be heard over the bands at Warren Community Amphitheatre during the River Rock at the Amp series.
But the couple also has operated various restaurants in Trumbull County over the years. John cooked in the '70s at George's Restaurant, which used to be located at the corner of High Street N.E. and Elm Road N.E. That's where he was working when he spotted Alex, who came here from Greece at age 19. He encouraged her to get a job there.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Andy Gray
Alex Vlahos makes meatballs for giouvarlakia, a simple soup that she has enjoyed since she was a child.
''My father said, don't even think about going to America and finding a boyfriend,'' she said. ''You're going to college I left Greece to go to college and become a doctor. I became the gyro woman.''
Together they've operated restaurants in the old Stone Building on Courthouse Square, in front of the putt-putt course on Youngstown Road S.E. and other locations. And John still is on the lookout for a prime location for another restaurant venture while the family expands its food stand operation.
Like many folks who cook for a living, at the end of a long day in the gyro stand, the last thing Alex Vlahos feels like doing is spending several more hours in her own kitchen. Those elaborate Greek favorites like pastitsio or moussaka usually are reserved for special occasions, or at least winter time when the festival season is over.
2 pounds ground beef or lamb
1 large onion chopped
1 tablespoon parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons long-grain rice (uncooked)
Six cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup long-grain rice
2 eggs at room temperature
Juice from two lemons
Add the water and butter in a pot seasoned with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, make the meatballs by mixing all seven ingredients together thoroughly and rolling into balls that are about 1 inch in diameter.
Drop the meatballs into the soup pot, turn the pot down to a simmer and let it cook for about 15 minutes.
Add a half cup (or more) of long grain rice to the pot and let simmer for another 20 minutes.
After adding the rice, juice the two lemons and add water to the measuring cup until there is about a full cup of liquid.
Beat the two eggs thoroughly and then beat in the lemon / water mixture.
Add a ladle-full of the soup stock to the lemon / egg mixture and stir to raise the temperature of the avgolemono to keep it from clumping when added to the soup pot.
Slowly pour the avgolemono into the pot while stirring the pot's contents until fully blended.
Serve with crusty bread.
Instead, she turns to recipes like giouvarlakia, which she has enjoyed since she was a child.
''It's fast,'' she said. ''It doesn't take too long. When I come home and don't have a lot of time and I want something that will fill us up, I make this.''
It's a recipe she learned from her mother, who Vlahos called her greatest culinary influence.
''She is the best cook,'' Vlahos said. ''Her keftedes (Greek meatballs), I would stay there and eat I don't know how many.''
She even called her mother the morning she was making the recipe for Trumbull Chefs to double check a couple of details. Vlahos learned to cook by watching her mother and doing it herself.
''The Greek thing is, we never measure anything,'' she said. ''Every time I try to put the exact measure, it never comes out the way I want it.''
While the family didn't go out to eat a lot when she was growing up, Vlahos said one of her earliest food memories is when her father would take the family out to dinner at a restaurant in Athens for special occasions.
''They had a spit with lamb on it,'' she said. ''It was the best night out. You'd get the skin of the lamb, crunchy and lemony.''
Giouvarlakia comes together in a little more than an hour, and less than half of that is active time.
Vlahos adds a little rice to the meatball mixture, because that's the way her mother always did it, but cooks should feel free to leave it out or add more rice.
Cooks also can add more than a half cup of rice to the stock. Vlahos doesn't add as much starch because she usually serves the soup with bread to soak up that extra broth.
Those large meatballs make for a hearty soup that can be satisfying on a cool late fall/winter evening, but the hint of citrus that comes from the avgolemono, a classic lemon-egg mixture used in Greek cuisine, adds a lightness to the dish that makes it suitable year round.
One of the risks when adding the avgolemono to the soup is that the lemon-egg mixture will clump rather than blend smoothly with the stock. Vlahos does a couple of things to prevent that. First, she lets the eggs come to room temperature before mixing them rather than using them straight from refrigerator.
She also adds a ladle of the hot stock to the lemon-egg combination and mixes it together to raise the temperature before adding it to the full pot of soup.
Those steps, and enlisting her husband to keep stirring the pot while she added the avgolemono, ensured that the soup turned out picture perfect.