Thursday, December 19, 2013

13 for 2013: Café Pita Plus in Westchase

Bosnia.  The country usually elicits references to World War I,  Wars in the Baltics in the late 1990s and refugees.  Cuisine is not usually in the American public's mind when that country is named.  However, this nation, fully known as Bonsia and Herzegovina is situated in Eastern Europe between Croatia, Serbia & Monte Negro and the Adriatic Sea. It was part of a patchwork nation called Yugoslavia that was created in 1918, that later broke up after the collapse of Communism in the Early 1990s.  The country was embroiled in a massive ethnic war between ethnic factions in the early 1990s which led to NATO's involvement.  Following the wars the country has progressed a long way--in many ways has returned to its multiethnic roots (as it had been as a state in the Ottoman Empire).  As a result, it has become a tourist destination in recent years.  People go there to see the path of some of the early church fathers, take hiking tours, and even do kayaking and whitewater rafting  This nation has strong influences of Greece, Turkey and Russia, and its cuisine reflects these influences and heritages.  In Houston, this cuisine can be found in the Westchase area at Café Pita Plus.

I had a nice conversation with Zumra, the manager of the Westchase location, who had come to the United States as a child--a refugee after the wars of the early 1990s.  She told a few tales about her family and how they established their business in Houston, talked about how Guy Fieri had discovered them and featured them on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and about the different influences of cultures within Bosnia.  While she talked I overheard folks of all types talking, in Slavic, Russian, English and Spanish within the restaurant.  I also noticed a fairly good swath of Houston's diverse population ordering food to go or in the restaurant, and found the atmosphere pleasant and inviting.

As I looked over their menu, I noted the specials they had and it read, as expected, like a fusion of Greek, Mediterranean and Baltic food.  The menu includes such Slavic staples as Ghoulash (a hearty beef stew served over rice with veggies), Greek items like Mousaka (Eggplant and Zucchini with seasoned ground beef in a special sauce), Gyros and Sarma (Unlike the Greek style, not served in Grape leaves but in Cabbage leaves!).  I wanted to get something that was representative of the Modern yet Traditional Bosnia and Zumra recommended the Hadzijski Cevap (Ground beef mixed with flavorful spices, in a sausage links style and veggies, sautéed in a light creamy tomato sauce).  This is served with a couple of pieces of pita and you start with a Greek Style salad (mixed greens, Feta Cheese, vinegar and oil based dressing).

I'm fond of Mediterranean Cuisine--eat at Fadi's and Niko Niko's on a regular basis.  I found Cafe Pita +'s salad competed well with any Greek Salad I've had in town.  I found their salad savoury, a little sour and filled with the wonderful pungency of fresh Feta Cheese.  The Hadzijski Cevap was herbal, garlic and peppery ground beef, and the sauce was like a rich tomato cream bisque.  I dipped the pita in the soup and loved it, just wish they'd given me a few more pieces of Pita is all!  This was very good--it was familiar, like Samara, yet totally different due to the Soup.  Really, really delicious stuff and I can see why a number of people are finding this food accessible, familiar and yet still something new.

Zumra recommended I try their Bosnian Coffee with a dessert.  I had come hungry and ready to eat, so I agreed to it.  I've had Greek and Turkish Coffee before--brewed in a small pot, VERY STRONG, and you have to decant it carefully so you don't get grounds in your small demitasse.  Although the Cup said Lavazza, it tasted a bit stronger and had some spice to it.  Really loved it, very good stuff--strong enough and yet smooth enough to wake the dead and get them moving in a few minutes.  She also recommended a fusion dessert called Baklava Cheesecake.  It's pretty much as it sounds--you have a layer of the crunchy, flaky crusted nuts and honey delight sitting atop a rich slice of cheesecake, with some semi-sweet whipped cream garnish.  This was REALLY GOOD STUFF.  The Cheesecake had a slight lemon essence, in contrast to the sweet honey and crunch of the nuts.  The crunch of the pastry layers was a nice contrast to the smooth creamy nature of the cheesecake.  It was the perfect end to a great lunch.

Report Card for Café Pita Plus:
Food & Beverage: 
     Greek Salad: A
     Hadzijski Cevap: A
     Bosnian Coffee: A+
     Baklava Cheesecake: A
     Friendliness: A+
     Speed: A-
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen: A
     Men's Room: Incomplete
Atmosphere (Converted Tuscan/1970s interior): B

Overall Grade: A- 

I want to thank Zumra for taking the time to talk with me and share some of her story.  I always like learning about the staff and ownership of interesting local places.  It's clear that Café Pita Plus has a good local following, as this was a Tuesday, I was there around 1 PM and there was a steady flow of to go orders as well as more than half the tables occupied.  For those keeping count, this is 7 of my 13 Restaurants for 2013.

Cafe Pita Plus has two Houston locations
I visited the one in Westchase at:
10852 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX  77042
713 953 7237

Sun-Thu 11 AM to 9 PM
Fri-Sat: 11 AM to 10 PM

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Cafe Pita on Urbanspoon

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