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    Eat & Swig

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    Photos by Mickie Winters

    On this late-April day, winter’s prickly blanket has lifted and sun-starved flesh emerges, longing for the kind of air that calms rather than induces shivers. The sky winks its brilliant blue. Two friends and I are mid-road trip on Indiana State Road 64, windows rolled down, relishing springtime, feeling free, happy and hungry. Our initial thought: Press on to New Albany for lunch, where we’ll find someplace with outdoor seating and enjoy this lovely day.

    We hit the brakes upon a curious sight — a pudgy hut with blue and yellow trim waving flags from Greece and the United Kingdom. A neon sign advertises gyros. Our plans change. We don’t scour Yelp for reviews. Instead, our gut instincts tell us A.J.’s Gyros To Go is the right move. We walk up to the window and discover two menus — one a mammoth list of ice cream options, the other a generous offering of Greek food. We’re in Someplace, Indiana, where none of us expected to find a food stand serving up spanakopita, Greek salad, hummus, falafel, gyros and Styrofoam cups of kalamata olives. (Later, when we pass a nearby drive-in movie theater, we’ll learn we’re in Georgetown.)

    Warm weather and food stands: These two should go elope already. During all that blustery business in January, I drive past the Dairy Dels of the world and mourn their comatose state. Though some stands that serve real food (fish, barbecue, tacos) instead of frozen sweets may stay open all year, there is joy lost when one must rush into heated quarters to eat, instead of plopping at a picnic table and risking a sunburn.

    I’m not quite sure what qualifies as a food stand. Panchito’s on Preston Highway feels like an ice cream stand, with its outdoor seating and melty treats. But one could argue it’s more of a compact building with tables outside. Same goes for Hill Street Fish Fry not far from U of L’s campus. Taqueria Cabrera on Taylorsville Road in Jeffersontown consists of a trailer and one picnic table in a gas station parking lot. But folks still devour nachos and tacos in this unconventional atmosphere.

    At A.J.’s we order a chicken gyro, a bacon and hummus gyro and a falafel plate. Maybe the sunshine and the surprise of ethnic fare in an arguably pasty part of Indiana makes it all taste better, but we collectively marvel at each bite. The need-two-hands-to-hold-onto-it bacon and hummus gyro blends crisp, savory bacon with lettuce, kalamata olives, tart feta and smooth hummus. The falafel’s crispy exterior encases spiced insides. The pita is soft and irresistible. My only regret: My full stomach persuades me not to sample A.J.’s ice cream. 


    Photo: A.J.'s Gyros To Go

    A.J.’s took over this former ice cream stand in June 2004. Owner Alison Hanover is originally from Liverpool, England, but spent nine years on the island of Crete working in a restaurant with her brother. “He taught me everything I know,” she says. “He definitely taught me how to slice cucumbers.” In Crete, she met her husband, a Georgetown native who was stationed in Greece with the Navy. “So that’s how we ended up in Indiana,” she says.

    Hanover says she makes up her recipes as she goes along. She tried a more traditional restaurant in 2009, but the rent was high and she cringed at that whole customer-service thing. “To be perfectly frank with you, my personality is not suited for that. Ever go to those restaurants where you go to be insulted? I’m kind of like that,” she says with a laugh. “I like that (the food stand) is quick. People come up to the window, they order food, you send it out. That’s it.”

    As we eat, a few other customers spoon up ice cream. An older couple looks over articles that Hanover has taped to a window. They skeptically eye the place, quietly saying to each other something along the lines of, “We’ve heard it’s really good!” Hanover estimates her business splits 50/50 — half ice cream, half Greek food. “I do think we’ve gotten to be known as a destination place,” she says. 

    My friends and I leave A.J.’s, heading south to Louisville and feeling satisfied with our meal and victorious at our find. But with summer ahead, I know I am not alone when I say this will not be my last stand.

    This originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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