Elie Harfouche, owner of The Pita Place, likes to serve food “exactly the way we eat it at home.”
Home, to him, means Lebanon. Although he’s been in this country for 30 years, the food closest to his heart, and that he enjoys sharing with others, is the food he grew up eating.
He and his wife and business partner, Frances, opened The Pita Place in 2014. Since then, they’ve been serving their take on Mediterranean food in the Evanstown Plaza, located just outside the Village of Williamsville.
“Everything we do is from scratch,” he said. “Everything is fresh. Everything is very, very healthy.”
Their restaurant is one among many ethnic eateries that have sprouted in recent years in the same plaza, including Lime House Restaurant, Woo Chon Korea House, El Ranchito, King Express and Thai Orchid Cafe.
Our party of three hustled in recently on an icy day. The interior - painted a bright green - provided a cheerful contrast to the gray outdoors. We ordered at the counter, where a friendly server answered our questions.
We settled at one of the handful of tables. The interior is clean and pleasant. A large drink case provides ample options for a cold beverage.
Given the weather, however, we started with Lebanese coffee. The coffee arrived in a shot glass-sized paper cup. The coffee could have been elevated by better presentation. Although aesthetically lacking, it was rich, dark and delicious. We ordered another.
We started with sides of za'atar ($2) and falafel ($1.99). The za'atar featured a pungent array of spices and sesame seeds on a disc of crisped pita. The falafel was crunchy on the outside and fluffy and herby on the inside. It was everything you could want in falafel.
Our entrees arrived: beef souvlaki sandwich ($8.99), chicken shawarma sandwich ($7.99) and a chicken and beef kebab combo plate ($12.50). The souvlaki came in a pita with feta, olives and tzatziki sauce. The shawarma, also wrapped in a pita, was stuffed with crisp vegetables and french fries, a surprise inclusion. The kebab plate arrived featuring succulent hunks of meat, a very fresh-tasting pita, chopped salad and side of hummus.
Both sandwiches were praised for their flavor and fresh vegetables. The meat in the kebab plate was clearly marinated for ample time before being grilled, making it tender and packed with a flavorful punch. I particularly enjoyed the hummus. Silky smooth, it felt like a bit of sunshine with its bright notes of lemon and garlic.
We finished with baklava ($3) and rice pudding ($3). The baklava comes in two flavors: pistachio or almond. We chose pistachio. The layers or phyllo dough were so crisp they shattered. It was baked with just the right ratio of honey, and the pistachios gave the dense dessert a nutty crunch. The rice pudding, by contrast, was creamy, but the rice still had a bite to it. It came showered with cinnamon.
The dessert answered any lingering doubt I may have had in my mind of where exactly I’d spend my dollars when I’m craving Mediterranean.
“This,” I decided, “ will be my go-to spot.”
Although The Pita Place does mostly take-out, it offers a pleasant dine-in experience with its clean interior, friendly service and fresh, flavorful food.
If you want a taste of Lebanon, Harfouche will happily transport you.
Address: 412 Evans St. (634-7482)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Gluten-free options: Most of the menu is gluten-free.