Bread to win

Pita Kitchen

2989 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 480-0560

Too often, the mediocre or the merely average is mistaken for the superlative because the superlative has never been experienced. Until recently, this was the case with pita, which, while not necessarily underrated as bread, seems too often viewed as an adjunct, a vessel for falafel, kabobs or a shovel for hummus. Pita is merely pita. No more, no less.

The aptly named Pita Kitchen in Arden Arcade shatters that notion. Any freshly baked bread is better than a prepackaged loaf sitting on the shelves. Pita is no exception. In the hands of the Pita Kitchen it is warm, spongy, light, fragrant and disappears quickly into the mouth of daughter Katie, who pronounces it first “soooo good” and then offers her highest praise: “epic.” Take a six-pack home for $1.95.

But a Mediterranean restaurant cannot live by pita alone—no matter how splendid. Pita Kitchen doesn’t. It has a varied menu that tags all the requisite bases. Falafel, shawarma, kifta, lamb, kibbe, tabbouleh, dolma, lentil soup. Of the 52 items on the menu, counting desserts, lots are vegan, including a kid-meal sandwich of hummus, tabbouleh and a cucumber or Jerusalem salad.

The grown-up portion of the Jerusalem salad—diced tomatoes, cucumber (with skin) and parsley awash in a thin tahini—is well-portioned, refreshing, refrigerator chilly and might benefit from red onion. Also veg is the addictive chocolate baklava. Consider: a honeyed phyllo strudel with the addition of chocolate. It’s easy to visualize the gods on Olympus knocking back ambrosia and wolfing chocolate baklava for dessert.

Always a plus, Pita Kitchen is a family operation, like Maalouf’s Taste of Lebanon over on Fulton Avenue, another good choice for Mediterranean. At Pita, Dad is in the kitchen and his daughters work the register and deliver the food. They’re friendly and well-versed about the menu. Meals are made to order, so be prepared to invest some time. “Healthy food made from scratch,” the menu announces.

Soups and salads and dolma—cigar-shaped rather than the rectangularish ones most commonly found—arrive relatively swiftly, but Dad fires up the entrees fresh. Perhaps used to the packaged stuff, which has a higher quota of cracked wheat, the tabbouleh is mainly parsley and lemon juice and olive oil, which was a bit off-putting—particularly later trying to remove the green bits from their lodging places between teeth.

A delightful discovery is spinach kibbe. It’s a deep-fried miniature football of bulgur, but at its center is a burst of spinach and onions. The falafels are crispy on the outside—a little too perhaps—but inside just the right texture.

Asked if there is something hotter than the tahini, one of the daughters brings out Dad’s homemade hot sauce. Is it made with harissa, the jolting red sauce of choice in North Africa? No, she says: It’s red peppers, cumin, some olive oil. How hot? Very. No lie. A dime-size drop causes the nose to become Niagara. No amount of water can quench the relentless scorch. It’s igneous.

The wondrous sauce reinvents the falafel, kibbe and already peppery kifta kebabs—ground beef mixed with onions and parsley and, among other things, cumin and allspice. It livens the basmati and perks up the creamy but somewhat bland lentil soup which is another Katie favorite. No doubt, in part, due to its blandness.

Much of the evening entrees—most between $10 and $14—are offered as sandwiches at lunch. Tucked into a pita, naturally. Ranging from $4 for a falafel to $6 for chicken shawarma with garlic hummus and pickled cucumbers, soup or salad for another $1, it’s a nifty value in these recessionary times.

Of the juice selection, the strawberry lime is thick, a bit syrupy. The mint lemonade is bracing. The orange carrot is killer. Up front there’s a market to stock up on other Mediterranean staples, besides pita. An initial visit will warrant a return.