Restaurant review: Pera

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Annihilating a college campus gyro sandwich is like a rite of passage. In fact, I'd wager few graduates enjoy the, uh, pleasures of a (seemingly endless) commencement speech without first having survived a wobbly-in-the-street stumble home with a face full of formerly spinning mystery meat. It's a great tradition.

Anyway, with the recent arrival of Pera - it takes over the old Ali Baba space - the OSU gyro scene has been taken to another level. Owned by the fine folks from Cafe Istanbul (a small family of terrific white tablecloth Turkish restaurants), Pera combines the wildly successful and machine-like efficiency of the "pick-your-protein-and-add-ons" format pioneered by Chipotle and tweaked by Piada (which Pera most resembles) with fresh and generally homemade Turkish and Middle Eastern fast food. Considering Pera's local competition and its healthy-ish and flavorful grub, I'd say that's a winning combination.

Not only is Pera's gyro meat easily the best in the OSU campus area, but it looks and tastes actually homemade (most gyro "loaves" are factory-produced elsewhere, often Chicago). Similar to its business-model predecessors, Pera offers its juicy and seared gyro slices (or chicken shawarma, salmon, or stewy cubes of lamb or chicken given the fajita treatment) in a wrap, "bowl" or pocket-type sandwich ($7-$8). Then you accessorize your main ingredient with goodies awaiting in troughs along a sort of server assembly line. At Pera, the free garnishes include pickled cabbage, cacik (pronounced zhuh-zhik -it's like tzatziki), feta cheese, tomatoes, onions and arugula (I recommend that very combo). For an extra fee of $2 each, you can also tack on house specialties such as an honest and thick hummus; a smoky, lemony and altogether excellent baba ganoush; a rich and killer "spicy chopped fresh salad" (think Turkish salsa); and lemon-drenched tabbouli.

For an extra treat, these special add-ons -along with sweet stuffed grape leaves and ratatouille-ish "eggplant in sauce" - can be corralled together in Pera's arousing appetizer plate ($8). The only problem with that fine option is that it confoundingly doesn't come with bread. And it's this issue of bread that Pera needs to work on.

Because though Pera offers high-quality fast food (their spearminty and excellent lentil soup - $4 - is a huge bowl of winter-warming comfort), it stumbles on the bread. For instance, though the lavash wrap is said to be homemade, when I tried it, it was a standard and forgettable burrito envelope. And on one occasion, my pocket "pide" sandwich was assembled with crusty and terrific homemade Turkish bread; on another visit, it was a decent if unimpressive regular-old pita loaf.

These non-deal-breaking inconsistencies seem easily solvable, but even as is, Pera's still better than most eateries in its fast-food-y campus neighborhood.


1980A N. High St., Campus