Sauntering into Pita's Mediterranean Wraps in Peoria is a culinary walk into another corner of the world.
That's at least once you get passed the eye popping pink poster showing off Pita's ice cream potpourri.
Owner Habeeb Ghantous is a native of Lebanon. Ghantous migrated to Peoria in 1976. He keeps memories of his homeland in murals on the wall.
But it's not the faux scenery selling the rolled up sandwiches or wraps. It's – the – bread!
"We make our own bread here for you fresh in the brick oven. We serve it fresh. –As fresh as we can. –Probably the freshest possible," said Ghantous.
The pita bread is cooked to order.
A little dough ball is flattened by a dough–flattening machine then slid into the super hot brick oven.
It comes out in less than a minute... heated with more intensity than a GE Profile microwave.
Over at the grill is the start of a Philly Cheese Steak Mediterranean Wrap.
Habib cooks the base ingredients; steak strips, green peppers, and onions... then they're shoveled onto a half cooked pita, with some cheese on top. Next, back into that fiery oven, my pretty.
It's like 600 degrees in here. I put my face up there and its' hot. The sandwich is going to cook in 30 seconds!
The hot bread is actually a working hazard and can do damage to a novice observer or operator. My attempt at acting here is meant to convey what you may do in the event of real contact with 500–degree pita–steam.
"It'll burn you if you don't watch. I've been burned about five times. Maybe six times. Nothing serious. In one or two days it will go away," said oven operator Mounir Ghantous.
A garlic chicken wrap sandwich is also nearing completion.
Its' topped off with a homemade white sauce. Looks like mayo, but it's not.
Garlic, a little dash of lemon juice in there and a little corn starch to make it hold together. And we blend, and blend and blend until it becomes nice and creamy.
At our table with the sights of Lebanon all around... photographer Warren Brenniger and I unwrap the wraps and dive in.
They are great hot sandwiches with fresh French fries on the side. If we were old school Lebanese, Habib explains, the French fries would go inside the wrap.
His Gyros get rave reviews from the regulars.
"We love the Gyros. (Why so?) They are probably the best in town," said one customer.
"I like the Gyros and I love the bread. The bread is the best. Can't beat it," said another.
Like the Gyro meat, Habib longs for the day when chicken can be prepared and served from a skewer... but U–S Health Codes forbid it.
"And I pray one day that we will be into that skewer business. ( So it will be like that chicken body hanging there and shaving the chicken? There you go!" said Ghantous.
Habib throws some Hummus with olive oil and more Pita bread at us. Its' a vegetarian meal all its' own.
He also shows off his made from scratch Falafel: It is a vegetable mix with spices and deep fried. Like a hush–puppy.
Looks like it would be good with a beer. (Actually it would be good with a beer.) But you don't have any beer? No. Unfortunately. This is a nice wholesome family place? Thanks Good, yes.
To intercept any possible indigestion, we sample the ice cream selection. I go with a coffee flavor that's fabulous.
A bill for two wraps, two drinks and French fries, 16–dollars and change.
Peti's is a perfect 45 minute escape from Peoria and the rest of the real world.
Pita's is on North Knoxville in the North Point Shopping Center.
They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 7pm.
Closed on Sundays.