War of the pita pockets

The latest in mass-marketed culinary cultural appropriation — Canadian-born Extreme Pita — is poised to open its second San Antonio location. To understand the ramifications of this event, I thought it my duty to examine the product of Store #1, located in the business building of UTSA’s main campus, where the company boasts “Fresh to the Extreme” and promises customers a variety of worldly flavors. They offer a traditional gyro and a falafel pita, but you can also consume a “Fiesta Mexicana” or “Thai Beef Pita.” They also serve something suggesting pizza served on flat baked pitas. Then there are the, perhaps inevitable, breakfast pitas.

In an attempt to experience something approximating authentic, I had the gyro combo. It came with pita chips (I chose garlic flavor over the jalapeno cheddar), a cookie, and a drink. Think Subway in Lebanon. The hummus was tasty, but the tzatziki reminded me of unadulterated sour cream. The pita chips would have been better if unflavored; the dusting of garlic powder wasn’t adding anything besides an unpleasant aftertaste. The gyro had an interesting addition to the meat, feta cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and tzatziki — for some reason black olives were added to the mix, perhaps just to reflect the already confused menu.

If you are looking for a truly authentic Mediterranean experience, let me suggest Shisha Café. Located at the corner of Babcock and Eckhert, they originally opened in 2003 as a Hookah café offering flavored tobacco and serving an assortment of teas, fruit smoothies, and sodas. Today, Shisha Café has a full menu from appetizers to desserts.

I’ve heard Mediterranean food lovers say that you can judge a restaurant by its dolmas, so I started there. The portions were generous, there must have been eight or 10 on the plate with a small salad in the center topped with an olive. I didn’t even get a precise count because we were eating them too quickly.

My guest and I shared the mixed grill plate of beef and chicken kabobs and a falafel plate. Each was served with hummus, a salad, and a soft warm pita. A few moments later our server brought us a bowl of rice. There was more food than we knew what to do with. Service was slow, but the food more than made up for it.

We topped off our dinners with baklava (some of the best I’ve ever had) and sahlab, a creamy, warm drink made with milk, sugar, and rose water, and sprinkled with cinnamon and pistachios. (Don’t even think about ordering a sahlab smoothie at Extreme Pita. It’ll never happen.) The combination of flavors — both surprising and comforting — offered the perfect conclusion to our meal on a cool afternoon.

Extreme Pita*
One UTSA Circle
(210) 458-7931
7am-9pm Mon-Thu, 7am-6pm Fri

Shisha Café
5500 Babcock
(210) 694-4800
11am-2am Mon-Thu; 11am-4am Fri-Sat; 11am-12am Sun

*Note that if you do not have a student or faculty parking permit, you will need to park on the roof of the North parking garage and prepay $1.50 per hour.

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