Dish

Pita the Great: bad pun but great food

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I’ve never been to Lebanon. I’ve never been anywhere, really,
besides a week in Geneva, a couple of trips to the States and a high school
exchange to Quebec. This unworldliness is a trait I’m embarrassed to
share with the masses who criticized the use of Canadian resources to extract
our own citizens during the latest US-backed Israeli attempt at hegemony in
the Middle East.

There is, however, a large contingent of Edmontonians who came from Lebanon.
They have family there, they visit on occasion and they worry about the
people in their homeland who served as target practice for frustrated
military “counterstrikes” against hidden Hezbollah.

I could feel it in the air when I stepped into Pita the Great. The gorgeous
hostess was asking a customer about family he had in the war-torn region. The
conversation felt somehow wrong in front of the proudly displayed flags of
Lebanon, Alberta and Canada along the wall behind the till area. For some of
us in this very city, the invasion wasn’t just grandstanding on the six
o’clock news.

With some difficulty, I tried to put the thought behind me as I scanned the
large interior. Almost half the space was devoted to a market for selling
food from home: rows of jars contained spices, legumes and sweets that I
couldn’t even pronounce. There were enough juices, cookies and
condiments to supply a Halal kitchen for the next decade.

I exchanged smiles with a chef in the open grill area crowned with enormous
photos of their delectable fare. I managed to resist a visit to the
refrigerated dessert counter, because I knew that if I came too close to the
tempting platters of baklava too soon, I would be lost.

I followed my wife and daughter into the dining area, mostly empty right
after work on a Tuesday evening. I marvelled at the authentic touches worked
into the décor. Textured walls, Middle Eastern art and energetic,
incomprehensible tunes fused to eclipse the sight of traffic on 34 Avenue
slowed to a standstill. The ‘80s restaurant furniture featured tall,
thin-backed chairs that were surprisingly comfortable.

I plucked one of the paper menus from the table and started browsing, only to
be brought up short by a visit from an even lovelier server. (Why don’t
their tourism brochures mention that Lebanon has cornered the market on
beautiful women?) She asked sweetly if we wanted anything to drink and my
wife requested a strawberry-guava juice ($1.50) and I asked for straight
guava ($1.50).

Under my wife’s amused gaze, I forced my eyes back to the brief menu. I
quickly decided on the kafta kebab full meal ($11.99) and she settled
somewhat uncertainly on the shawarma full meal ($12.99). Our toddler would
feast from our plates.

Our server returned with the juices and a surprise that I knew she
intended just for me. Her basket carried two pitas that weren’t the
dry, hard flatbreads I knew. They were piping hot and puffed up to a
suspicious size. I tore off a corner and a billow of steam escaped with a
wondrous, fresh-baked scent. The pita itself melted on my tongue and I
desperately craved a dish of hummus to complete the experience. My daughter
devoured pieces of pita as quickly as I could tear them.

My guava juice was a thick, sweet nectar redolent of pears. My wife took a
single sip of her drink and her eyes closed. As our daughter clamoured for a
taste, my better half savoured a few slow, sensual sips before she shared.
They were both delighted with the flavour of fresh strawberries that
dominated the viscous liquid.

Our dinners arrived quickly with another stunning smile from our server. The
oval plates were mounded with luscious-smelling foodstuffs. Both of us had
ample servings of fresh fattoush salad under a wonderfully tangy lemon and
olive oil dressing, next to that sweetly-spiced Lebanese rice that rides the
edge between entrée and dessert.

My bride’s shawarma was a little tougher than she expected, but the
succulent shredded beef was delicious exercise to her jaws. My kafta was
simply exquisite. Tender ground beef was spiced far more subtly than her
shawarma, then shaped into two flattened bars. Our daughter decided that the
kafta was her favourite and polished off half my order and the majority of my
wife’s rice.

The combination of fresh, exotic cuisine was a real pleasure to eat. We were
unaccustomed to these rich flavours and sampled everything quite
enthusiastically. At the end, neither of us could actually finish our
enormous portions but sat back happily.

Yeah, right—like I was going to walk out without the baklava ($2 for
3).

I was expecting the drier, cookie-like Lebanese version of these
honey-drenched nut treats wrapped in phyllo pastry. Pita had one more
surprise for me, though: not only were these more moist than I expected, they
were also packed with sweet pistachios instead of more prosaic walnuts. When
my daughter refused to try hers, I happily polished it off.

Like I said, I’ve never been to Lebanon. I rely on my government to
intercede when a foreign nation invades a country, and I rely on former
residents to provide me with an authentic taste of their ancient culture.
Thankfully, for $30 plus tax and tip, Pita the Great can deliver. And, unlike
some of their neighbours, they don’t care what’s on your
passport. V

Mon – Thu to 8:30 pm, Fri – Sun to 9:30 pm
Pita the Great
10141 – 34 Avenue
944.0000

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