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Restaurant Review: Pita Brothers

NIAGARA FALLS – Aside from good food and great prices, probably the most important ingredient for success in this tough restaurant market is a gung-ho, can-do attitude.

Pita Brothers Mediterranean Grill has all the above, and the last two in spades. That will go a long way in a market that seems to often hinge precariously on word-of-mouth advertising.

I know the place has good food because we sampled several different menu items during a recent “soft opening,’’ and we were hard-pressed to find anything we didn’t like. I know they have the necessary attitude for two reasons: not only were they open on the Fourth of July – when gorgeous summer weather allowed countless other dining/entertainment options – but staff also did a spectacular job of “selling’’ the place to us during brief table visits to take orders and deliver drinks and such.

We learned of the top-to-bottom makeover of the onetime bar and, more recently, another ill-fated Mediterranean place. We learned of the new owners’ desire to serve only the freshest foods and drinks, with unique Egyptian twists. We even learned the meanings of the hand-painted hieroglyphics on the eatery’s “Wall of Knowledge.’’

Heck, I even got to feed Jack Dempsey – the fish, not the boxer. Our waiter could tell that I was a “fish guy,’’ and insisted that I feed the few members of their up-and-coming tank. He even promised to have more specimens by the time of our next visit. I intend to hold him to that promise.

Oh yeah, he also talked up the food. Big time. Told us how their hummus is hand-made to order and guaranteed to be the best we’d ever had. He suggested his personal favorites from the menu, and told us why they were his favorites. In other words, he made it easy for folks who maybe aren’t quite up to snuff on the many intricacies of Mediterranean cuisine. He made you feel good about what you were ordering, like you had made all the right choices.

Judging by our meals, it appears we did make all the right choices. We went away stuffed and satisfied and looking forward to a return visit.

Before I get into details, mark your calendars for Pita Brothers’ grand opening on Monday.

I ordered a cold, tea-like drink called Karkade, and enjoyed it while I perused the papyrus artwork and unusual lighting that adorned the walls. The drink is made from dried hibiscus flowers and comes with sugar on the side so you can adjust the level of tartness. It was actually quite good with no sweetener, but I eventually stirred a little sugar in to take a little of the edge off. It was very tasty.

As it was, we decided to try the Shawarma ($9.99), the shish kebab ($10.99), the falafel platter ($8.99) and the open chicken souvlaki ($8.99). Even though my falafel platter came with hummus, we opted to order a plate as an appetizer ($3.49), as well.

It came with toasted pita, fresh and warm, and the hummus itself was wonderful – creamy, gorgeously seasoned and very much as advertised. “This hummus is the best I have ever had!’’ Meagan gushed. We cleaned it up in a matter of minutes, with everyone pitching in. We ran out of pita before we ran out of hummus, so I had to finish it up with a fork. Yeah, it was that good.

The Shawarma chicken (Egyptian-style) looked more like a curry chicken, with a distinctly yellowish tinge, but did not have that telltale curry flavor. Steffany wondered if it was perhaps cumin that had lent it the unusual color. She said it was “unusual’’ in comparison to the typical Shawarma she has had. It was good, she decided, but not her favorite. It was served with fries (nicely seasoned and very tasty) and a Greek salad.

The shish kebab had a very noticeable “grilled’’ flavor to the nicely seasoned cubes of beef. It wasn’t a “fake’’ grilled effect, but a genuine charred style. Meagan very much enjoyed it, and also the fries that were served alongside.

Teresa’s only complaint about her open souvlaki was that the dressing had been handled with a heavy hand, and quickly started making her greens soggy. She openly wished that she had asked that the dressing be served on the side. Otherwise, it was a fresh and tasty dish, with nice croutons and a tasty pepperoncini complementing a nice bed of greens and tender, grilled chicken breast.

The falafel platter, as previously mentioned, was served with a side of hummus and that nice toasted pita. I never specified the tzatziki (a yogurt/veggie dip) or tahini (a sesame seed-based dip) when ordering, so the nice server brought me both. We are traditionally tzatziki-ists, and that dip was nice and tasty, but the tahini was also good – a little tangier, perhaps, not quite as sweet, but good for dipping the falafel.

The falafel, by the way, was wonderfully fresh. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, warm and soft inside, the meal consisted of about six or seven good-sized balls, nicely seasoned, and was quite satisfying. The hummus turned into a side for the table, but there was more than enough to go around – again.

We topped things off with an order of the house special kunafa ($3.29). A sweet Arabic dessert, it reminded me of a fine, almost citrus-y tasting baklava with a hint of coconut. It consisted of what our server described as an “angel hair’’ topping (which had the texture of toasted coconut but was much finer), and seemed to have a sweet base or filling. All I can say for certain is that it was delicious, and deliciously different. Do yourself a favor and try it when you stop in.

It’s not a very large place, but they also offer a take-out counter in the back. With their mix of freshness, quality and friendly service, they appear to have the recipe for success down pat.