Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tasty Tuesday: Pita & Company

In this week's edition of Tasty Tuesday, I'm going to introduce you to the only eatery in Madrid that I've been to more than five times, besides La Mallorquina.

One day, early on in my Spanish stint, I was having a particularly violent bout of Canadian Girl Cravings for Lebanese food. I LOVE Lebanese food - and I grew up hearing about The Most Amazing Shawarma Ever that I apparently had once, but can't remember because I was only two years old and only had a nibble.

See, my aunt came to study in Canada in...oh, 1978? 1979? Then my mom came to join her in '79 or '80. And apparently, back in the day, there was THE most incredible shawarma place on College St. in downtown Toronto called Ali Baba.

You won't believe the stories I've heard from the two of them (corroborated by my father separately) about that shawarma. Apparently the spicing was just right, the meat (which they can't even remember was beef or chicken, but probably was beef) had just the right amount of fat in it that was roasted to a juicy crisp, and the crowning glory of the whole shebang was the bright red hot sauce, which was super fragrant, quite spicy, and just the most amazing hot sauce that ever existed.

So I was told.

Since that place closed down in the late 80s, my mom's been eating around at different shawarma places all over town and she always, always claims that none of the new places she's tried are anywhere near as good as Ali Baba was.

I kind of suspect that she romanticizes that old shawarma. I have no doubt that it was absolutely delicious, but nostalgia and memory tend to embellish good things that they're trying desperately to hold onto when they start to slip away. But I've always been pretty happy with the shawarmas (shawarmae? :P) I've had because I can't remember the legendary one. The best I've had in Canada were in Ottawa, though - more on that later. :)

Anyway, that's my very long story about why I love shawarmas and why I crave them every so often and why I happened to be wanting one really badly last summer, when I first moved to Spain.

I noticed that Madrid, like Nice, has an abundance of Turkish places selling kebab/kebap sandwiches, but very, very few that sell shawarmas. I'm personally not a fan of the kebabs I've had in Nice, Paris and Madrid because they tend to be super salty, super greasy, many have fries rolled into them, and I just like shawarma spice better. I also don't like doners that much (although I had the most amazing doner in Tokyo once), so searching for a shawarma was a big and important challenge for me.

Lo and behold, I think in August - or was it September? - a placed called Pita & Company opened on Calle Mayor in downtown Madrid near the Puerta del Sol that sold shawarmas! I was thrilled, naturally.
I'd describe the atmosphere of Pita & Company as...sleek fast food. You order and pay before you eat, the food is very reasonably-priced, and there are combos with fries and soft drinks (which cost about 6.10€ for a sandwich combo, if I remember correctly, and about 8€ for a platter combo).

Now, while their shawarmas weren't what I was used to, they're good in their own way. Instead of using that super thin, chewy, wide pita bread that Lebanese eateries in Canada use, they use a smaller, slightly thicker, more bread-like pitas, but they're not as thick as their Greek counterparts, and they have a pocket in the middle. The meat (you get to choose between chicken, beef or lamb) is good, the spicing is close to what I'm used to, but I think it'd be better if they'd put more filling in the sandwiches.

But what I love most about Pita & Company is the self-serve all-you-can-eat salad bar and condiment bar. They have about 8 different salads and side dishes and a TON of sauces and veggies that you can put in your shawarma. They unfortunately don't have the crisp, pink, pickled turnip that I love, but they have pickled purple cabbage, marinated tomato and eggplant salad, tabouleh, plain lettuce, spiced onions... They even offer pasta salad, although my favourite item from the salad bar is their fried cauliflower. It's DELICIOUS.

They also offer a great selection of sauces. I'm conditioned to expect to put a red hot sauce into the shawarmas I eat but they don't have any. Instead, they have this spicy green sauce, which I suspect is a jalapeno blend, that I really like. They also have tzatziki, garlic sauce, baba ghanoush (!!! all you can eat!!!), marinara sauce (?!), and ketchup (in shawarmas? ew.), mustard (ditto), etc. I especially love putting their Spanish garlic mayo (called alioli, but it's kind of different from North American aoli) onto my fries.

They also have a long list of inexpensive side dishes on the menu, but I tried the croquetas (croquettes) once and I wouldn't go there again - might as well just go to Casa Julio. I'd stick to just shawarmas and fries. I also tried the shawarma platter once with rice instead of fries and really regretted my decision. And they also serve foie gras, but I'm not really into organs, so I haven't tried it. But their shawarma sandwich is very much worth a try, and I'd recommend washing it down with some Fanta Naranja (orange pop I drink a lot of in Spain).

So if you ever find yourself in Madrid on a shoestring budget and/or you just really want quasi-Lebanese food that tastes very decent and is reasonably-priced, I would most definitely recommend Pita & Company (Calle Mayor, steps away from Desigual). :)

1 comment:

stace said...

:) ottawa!
picture of salad bar!