“My friend, how are you?” says the man behind the counter. “What can I get you today?”
“Well, errmm. Let’s see…” I respond. “I’ll go with the shawarma plate.”
“Ok my friend, thank you have a seat.”
I am at Pita Palace, where until recently I was a virgin to the experience that I’ve been hearing about for a while now. The place is tiny and a bit run down in appearance, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. On my first visit the whole restaurant, which is about the size of a PODS storage unit, wafted of musky lamb meat emanating from a beguiling shawarma rotisserie that resides behind the counter. About every two minutes, an electric knife whirs and buzzes across the surface of the shawarma slicing off little meat shavings.
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, past peak time for lunch, but people are still piling in Pita Palace. Customers are stepping on each others feet to place orders with the man behind the counter who is dictating the whole tempo. This same man, Roy I’m told, comes from behind the counter and whoa – he’s sort of small in stature. But back behind the counter space, he commands the place. He’s firing off a machine-gun successions of “my friends” to the customer who looks like a banker on a weekend jog. He then turns to a pretty girl and lays on a little charm, “do you want hooomuusss (hummus)?”
Roy then darts his attention back to the group of familiar young men from the neighborhood and converses in a bit of lively staccato-baritone Hebrew. He then turns to his Mexican coworkers in the kitchen and spouts off the men’s orders in some sort of Hebrew-Español language hybrid that they all completely seem to understand.
“Your shawarma sir..” I’m given a Styrofoam plate full of greasy chips of lamb with a side of crisp french fries. I’m also given another plate of hummus, baba ghannouj and a disc of pita bread that is cut in half. I eat one half of my pita until I watch other diners and realize that I should probably stuff it with some accoutrements offered at the restaurant’s dual-purpose vegetable bar. The bar is shared by the restaurant workers filling to-go orders and customers who want to customize their own pita sandwiches. I stuff mine with some red cabbage, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and finish it with a lot of tahini sauce. Lazy Sunday success.
Before I leave, I place a to-go order for the falafel pita intended for my wife. Roy communicates my order back to the kitchen in that Hebrañol that I am now fascinated with. A few minutes later Roy is handling my order in front of the vegetable bar and asks, “do you want hooomuuss?”
“Yes” I respond.
“What else my friend??”
I take the falafel pita sandwich back to my car and take a bite. And then another. And, ok, just ONE more. Back home, I arrive with a half-eaten falafel sandwich.
“Errrm, sorry?” I sheepishly convey to my wife. No pun intended.
Pita Palace, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays, closed Saturdays; 1658 LaVista Road NE, Atlanta, 404-781-7482.
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.