The Pita Grill is definitely one of those places I have quickly glanced inside and wondered "who goes there?" Perhaps the strip mall encompassing the block can answer that question, Pita Grill shares it with a payday loan place, Green Werkz dispensary, "Liz" Gift Shop (smoking accessories), Cricket Phones, Paris Nails, and Capitol Cigars. For as much hustle as I see of the passersby, myself included, I rarely see anyone inside these shops, apart from old men at the cigar shop late at night. This block doesn't have the same "hang out" vibe as say, the Roslyn block. I wonder about the struggle of these businesses to stay in the black, maybe the Pita Grill is the exception and foundation that keeps the others afloat. Grill aside, I like the idea of hookah bars, I picture a relaxed setting with cushions and rugs and soft, ethnic music wafting among the smoke, perhaps a belly dancer or two. I've never been one for flavored tobacco, hell I've never even tried it, but I'm certainly going to live up this experience. One thing that perplexed me: do you eat and smoke in the same room and isn't that kind of bothersome? Yes, says Kristin, who's been here once before, but it's not like you think. No, it is definitely not like I think.
No cushions or rugs or soft, ethnic music. To be sure, there are 3 large black leather couches at the front of the shop, for those just there to puff, but that's where the comfort level ends. It's composed of two adjacent rooms, one just for eating, one for smoking or smoking and eating. The young host/server leads us into the smoking room, where I spy the black couches and the various hookahs on the window ledge, surrounded by a profusion of blinking Christmas lights. This place is hippie rather than Hafez, with strange bits of Americana thrown in: old-timey posters of "Bugsy" Siegle and Frank Sinatra; Raphael's Angels, fallen, with beers and cigarettes in hand; the requisite Bob Marley; a tv, mercifully muted, tuned to the GSN. Yup, that means Game Show Network. And the music, a veritable 80's gold mine with hits such as "The Heat is On", "Sweet Child of Mine", and "Hangin' Tough". When I'm not dreaming of cushions and rugs, "hookah" also says to me: I'm between the ages of 18 and 21 and I obey the law but I'm still trying to be cool (in a nerdy sort of way). College dorm room, that's what they're going for. And yet, no dorm is this cliché. The interpretation of American culture isn't quite right, it's too mish-mash, and then I remember it's all from the immigrant's perspective. I'm the insider looking at an outsider's version of America, of what he thinks Americans want to be surrounded by when eating out. It seems laughable but quaint, and also a little sad. I think I prefer the dorm room analogy. What would Hafez say?
|not a fire-breathing dragon|
But enough philosophizing. Our waitress is clearly cut out for the job. She is an extension of this place in sight alone: long dark hair in a headful of tiny braids and ribbons, linen shirt, flowing skirt, direct, piercing eye-contact and smile that says "welcome to my world". I'm stereotyping, I know, but sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason. She gets right down to business and asks us what we'd like to smoke. I assumed the smoking would happen after the eating but not so. She recommends a blend of sweet and savory, the "Royal blend". Well okay then. Placing two hot coals on top of the aluminum foil-covered tobacco, she hands us a couple of plastic tips, mouth guards if you will. There is only one hose, I'm a little disappointed in that. There's something kind of sexy about 2 people each holding a hose in their mouth, staring into each others' eyes, and blowing smoke out of their noses and ears like dragons. But alas, there is really nothing sexy about this place, save the waitress perhaps. We order black tea with mint and honey, iced. It comes in a huge plastic pitcher, mint leaves in abundance, but taking second place to the copious amounts of honey. At least it's not sugary-grainy. The tea and the smoke really do go nicely together, and as I puff away, I notice that the airflow in the room is so heavy the smoke doesn't linger at all. It's kind of nice, but also kind of cold, and I wish we were drinking hot tea instead.
We order dolmas and lentil soup and grilled kabobs and a falafel sandwich. Typical, hopefully tasty, telling. Indeed. The dolmas are warm, that is, somewhere between hot and cold, and that just doesn't seem right to me. They are oily and mushy but I use those adjectives not in an entirely bad way. Just the right amount of vinegar to whet my palate for something more. Next the soup, in one of those tall white ceramic ramekins, steam rising off of it seductively and making me shiver. She also delivers a plastic ramekin of lemon juice, for the soup, if we so desire. It turns out to be the only condiment available, but I don't know that yet. The soup is a little watery, heavy on the ghee, peppery, but hot and steamy and therefore tasty, better than the dolmas. The kabobs and falafel come out, and while I really try my darndest not to compare, it's really impossible, isn't it? After a few bites, no more comparison was necessary, this food just really wasn't that good. The falafel was terribly under-seasoned, like mashed up garbanzos thrown into a fryer. Specks of tomato and lettuce soaking in a thin, whitish sauce lined the bread, bread grilled with that rather unpleasant grill flavor, not the delicious char-like flavor but the gas-is-on-too-high grill flavor. The kabob plate consisted of 3 oval shaped pieces of meat atop some bouillon-flavored rice with no added herbs, next to one giant hunk of grilled white onion, one giant hunk of mushy grilled tomato, and one giant hunk of grilled green pepper. I'm not opposed to large pieces of vegetables in general, or having to cut up my food, but the presentation was a little unappealing. A side of hummus was unceremoniously plopped next to the veggies, the little divot of olive oil slowly leaking onto the rest of the plate. The meat was under-seasoned, though not as badly as the falafel, but hey, it comes from an animal not a plant, so it's bound to be a little more savory. The veggies had the tell-tale grill mark on them, and sure enough, the same gassy flavor as the bread. Everything needed some salt and pepper and hot sauce, none of which were available on the table.
After sampling everything I realize I'm hella thirsty, what with the smoke and the sugary tea, and we have to flag down our waitress for water, who now seems stressed out and hurried due to the three other tables in the room. I guess we can't all be peace and love and harmony all the time. I glance up at an aging Bob Saget hosting a quiz show, and for a moment I think there are a swarm of cops outside, but I realize it's just the blinking of the Christmas lights, reflecting on the window.