It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and beads of sweat drip down my forehead. I find myself standing in the parking lot of the Druid Hills Whole Foods and my eyes are locked in across the street. Anyone with good sense would know that the personal shower was due to the hellish-like temperatures of an Atlanta summer. In most any other case, they’d be right. However, there is an exception to every rule and this was just one of those situations.
In this instance, I was feeling the pressure. Smack dab across the street from that WF is the long standing Pita Palace. Though anything but palatial, the Palace has withstood nearly 7-years of economic turmoil and remained one of the more popular places for ATLiens to grab them some shwarma (aka gyros).
Being the good foodie that I am, I knew I was obligated to cross the street for another one of my “not so” first impressions. Questionable personal safety combined with Whole Foods sushi in the belly made me apprehensive. Not only did I need to make it across Lavista alive, I need to find someway to cram more food into my stomach. With Fünke at my side, the two of us darted across the Lavista on our way to take on Israel’s take on street food!
The Pita Palace sits just a short skip from Toco Hills, the heart of Atlanta’s Jewish community; therefore, it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the place operates in accordance with Kashrut law. Short of the long: no dairy and meat mixed together. Continuing along this logical progression, Pita Palace is open Monday to Thursday from 11am until 8:30pm. On Fridays, they wrap up at 3pm in observance of the Sabbath (Jewish “Sunday”) and remain closed until Sunday (11a-7p).
[As a point of retrospect, it wasn’t until I got home that I recalled my several trips to PP back in the day. I’m not going to try and dust the cobwebs for this … so let’s just call it a newbie trip.]
Having rumbled across the street, Fünke and I stepped into the pint sized restaurant fearful of being overstuffed. Luckily for us, nearly everything comes in four sizes (1/2 pita, full pita, plate, and laffa), so the snacker in me was able to settle in nicely.
With 8 different “meat” options on the menu, choosing shouldn’t be a major problem. In addition to the shwarma, they also offer up falafel, and pargiyut (spelling optional). The latter is a Kosher poussin/ pullet/Cornish game hen/baby chicken. As for the options previous, laffa is essentially a giant pita. Having never ordered it at Pita Palace, I cannot comment as to which variant it is (there are several).
Back on task, I walked up to the counter and placed my order. The gentleman behind the barrier (who is the owner), spun and chatted up his kitchen man in Hebrew. I no idea what the hell he said … but there were enough hhhhhcchchchcuskskskschchchs and chkckshckshskshs involved that it was definitely Hebrew.
At that, we waited just a bit until a pillowy pita pocket emerged from the spit. At this point, it’s up to you to top your food with fixings from the salad bar. I did so promptly, sat and dove in.
First things first about this shwarma. In case you are wondering, shwarma and gyros are essentially the same. There are some nuances and in different parts of the world … but for now … let’s just keep it simple. In any event, the spit meat here is made primarily of chicken with a touch of lamb. This is probably a departure from what most people here think of when the word gyro gets tossed around. Regardless, the consistency of chicken shwarma is much different than the sliced lamb meat you might be used to. By the time it’s shaved off the rotating meat hump, this chicken will appear diced.
Flavored by all sorts of spices and combined with the lamb, this meat had a strong essence of Israel. Though it had a tendency to be a little “part-like” at times, this is a consequence of the chickens they use and not due to a deficient product. Still, there is better Kosher chicken out there. Nonetheless, the chicken didn’t do us any disservice and for $5.50, a 1/2 pita is fairly reasonable.
The toppings out of the salad bar are all freshly made and very clean to the bite. Nothing will blow your mind, but for a guy like me … just looking to explode the hump … I can’t really complain.
I suppose the one other note is that I was charged for this after I had topped my pita. I don’t know if there is something in the salad bar that denotes a surcharge (nothing on the menu suggests that), but the experience did lead to an awkward exchange of me trying to hold my pita and one hand and fish my wallet out with the other.
Pita Palace pretty much dusted the nearby Falafel King as far as I’m concerned. Granted, it isn’t a one-to-one comparison (I had different food at FK), but as it stands now the King isn’t fit for this Palace. Tossing out the dietary restrictions that impact the food at PP, it doesn’t hold a candle to Café Agora in Buckhead; however, it certainly holds up just fine against a casual assessment. Maybe it could be a little cleaner inside, and maybe they could improve on the food some, but not every restaurant needs to knock your socks off. Good food + fare prices = fine by me. And if you know anyone who keeps kosher, this should definitely be high on your list.
[please excuse the droid photos]