It’s the only live-action food show in town. Stand on the corner of Kirkwood and Walnut and try not to drool as the cook in the window of the Trojan Horse carefully shaves slivers from the hunk of savory meat roasting on the vertical spit, tucking them into warm pita bread, topping the sandwich with diced tomatoes, a tangle of paper-thin sliced onions, and a lavish drizzle of garlicky “Zaziki” sauce. When you can’t stand it another minute, wrench open the heavy wood door, its nautical rope handle a remnant of the restaurant’s earlier incarnation as the seafaring Brigantine restaurant, and step into a cool and darkened space—a Greek taverna with a Hoosier twist.
If you are a regular, Greg Marshall, the restaurant’s manager, may have seen you coming from the window, and have your favorite dish waiting for you. The place has been around so long that there are third generation regulars coming in, kids of the kids of the college kids that first fell in love with a juicy gyros sandwich back when owner Denny Stalter was a proprietor of Zeus’s Gyros, a restaurant on Kirkwood that burned down in 1978. Within six months Stalter was back in business in his current location and in the nearly 30 years since the Trojan Horse has become part of the foundation of the rich culinary community that has developed around the courthouse Square.
Which is not to say it is standing still. There is plenty of tradition on the menu, of course. The gyros is still there. Made in house, the browned and crispy meat has that distinctive Greek tanginess that comes from oregano, garlic, onion, and lamb. The sandwich is spicy and succulent, the sweet and cooling tzaziki sauce a perfect foil. And then there is the falafel. Made from ground chick peas and bulgur wheat, liberally spiced, falafel is rolled into balls and deep fried to a satisfying crunch, and doused with sesame tahini sauce. There are Greek salads and kebabs, and other Middle-Eastern favorites too — not always wholly authentic but always tasty and satisfying.
But change comes, even to 30-year-old institutions. Portabella mushrooms, not yet on the culinary radar when the restaurant opened, appear in appetizers (grilled or stuffed), salads (with spinach), in omelets, or in a wrap. A trip to California sent Stalter back home with a hankering for fish tacos, and now they too are on the menu, served with a searingly hot but really delicious salsa. And frugality plus creativity resulted in baklava ice cream—cold creamy goodness blended with leftover corners of the nutty, honey-scented pastry.
The eclectic menu draws a university/business/family crowd from lunch to dinner, but Bloomingtonians are not the only ones to relish the Trojan Horse. Food magazine Bon Appetit has twice given national recognition to the restaurant—once for its falafel sandwiches and once for being a “Great Neighborhood Place.” So, remember, if you are in the neighborhood, take a look in the window, but don’t be surprised if you end up inside, both hands wrapped around a gyros.