Part Three: Pita Pita Mediterranean Grill
Sitting there happily scarfing down lunch, I had to wonder: considering that I love Lebanese food, why did it take me five years to discover this place? Maybe it was the name, which says “Greek” to me. Maybe it was the humble exterior of this onetime Dunkin’ Donuts. In any case, it was only after stepping inside that I fully appreciated owner Kamel Daifi’s transformative touch—the faux stone arches, romantic paintings, and paraphernalia from the old country. It feels sweet, unique, and handmade. Daifi grew up in Lebanon and worked on Beirut’s glamorous Hamra Street before heading for North America. The steady presence of Daifi and his wife, Fatima, plus a cadre of affable, down-to-earth servers gives the place a relaxed, family air.
The salad that so felicitously introduced me to Pita Pita was a platter of fresh greens mixed with crisped pita chips, topped with shaved chicken caramelized golden on the rotat-ing shawarma spit, dusted with sumac, and served with a side of garlic sauce. I would fault it only for its midwinter tomatoes, which were blessedly few. Otherwise, it was a boun-tiful and light meal, complemented by a simple house-made dressing of olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and herbs.
I came alone on that first trip, but once I saw that they had karnabeet on the menu, I knew I could get my husband to join me the next time. Karnabeet, florets of deep fried cauliflower, is our marker for what we want in a Middle Eastern place—a sign that they are taking it at least one step beyond the hummus and kabob baseline.
As we settled in to order appetizers, I asked if it were possible to get a custom meze sampler rather than one of the preset combinations. The reply was yes, for a price ($14). They built a special selection of karnabeet, sujok, kibbe, and stuffed grape leaves. The karnabeet was just good, not stellar, but the sujok and the kibbe made up for it. The spicy little lamb-beef sujok sausages, flavored with garlic and cayenne, were served in a sort of tomato cream sauce. Pita Pita’s outstanding kibbe are cracked-wheat croquettes about the size and shape of a duck egg, stuffed with a mix of ground lamb, onions, and pine nuts. The whole thing is then deep fried, so that it gets a crispy hard shell while the savory center remains moist. Grape leaves filled with rice and ground lamb were skillfully executed as well. Our entrees included a choice of soup or salad. A bowl of lentil soup was under-seasoned, but had a hearty wholesomeness that reminded me of old-fashioned split-pea soup. The fattoush side salad was fresh and well dressed.
Given the range of appetizers, main courses played second fiddle. On a platter featuring two types of shawarma, the beef was more exotically spiced and juicier than the chicken. My chicken ghallaba was a hearty sauté of peppers, onion, and cubed chicken breast. Pita Pita’s starches need work—French fries were pale and nearly flavorless, the rice with vermicelli and the flat bread only marginally better. Each entree was enough for two or three to split. Given the portion sizes, dessert was out of the question, but I took home a couple of pieces of baklava for later, and they were good. Then again, who can argue with flaky pastry, cashews, and pistachios?
Service was fast and personable. All in all, from the humble diner ambiance to the authentic, well priced food, Pita Pita is, even belatedly, a find.
Pita Pita Mediterranean Grill
Daily 10 a.m.–11 p.m. (till midnight in the summer).
Appetizers $3.50–$8.95, soups and salads $2.50–$8.50, sandwiches $2.95–$4.95, entrees $8.50–$14.95, children’s menu $4.95, lunch specials $6.50–$7.50, desserts $1–$2.95