Munch goes to Pitaland Cafe in Brookline


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On one Saturday morning not too long ago, the inventory of Munch's stomach was something like this: one half bagel with crunchy peanut butter, one half packet of coffee-flavored Clif Bar Energy Gel, three potato chips, one pint sewage-laced Allegheny River water.

All in all, Munch's Pittsburgh Triathlon appearance wasn't a total bust. I finished, after all, in a somewhat respectable fashion (i.e., before they closed the course). But in the crowded field of the swim leg, Munch inadvertently ended up tangled up with a few participants and accidentally choked down a few gulps of strange-tasting river water. It could have been that, or the less-than-par Chinese food from the night before, but post-race, instead of feeling glee and excitement over a calorie fest, I felt a little sick. There would be no tall stacks of pancakes or greasy omelets in Munch's future.

I was looking for a different kind of breakfast, something healthy and gentle on the internal organs. Could Pitaland Cafe, whose grocery store has long been lauded by a vegetarian colleague, be the answer?

The interior of Pitaland -- which has gotten an upgrade recently -- was certainly soothing. It's clean lines and pristine appearance, along with cans and boxes and bottles of things labeled in Arabic, make it seem like a museum of strange, delicious things. In one corner, there's now a grill and small kitchen with a wrap-around counter and perhaps a dozen high-backed chairs that constitutes the cafe.

In rustic fashion, most of the menu was written up on a large chalkboard, a delightful array of Lebanese and Middle Eastern-inspired options like a lamb burger, mana'eesh (flatbread) with a variety of toppings and foul (pronounced "I pity the foul").

My dining companion/triathlon moral support Brady and I marveled at the menu, along with the glistening bakery case full of baked treats -- baklava and almond rolls and date candies. We settled on a few items -- some standbys and some dishes that intrigued us.

The foul ($6) was described in the paper menu as "the National Dish of Lebanon." It is a sort of stew of chickpeas and fava beans, simmered with herbs and tomatoes and topped with parsley. Despite lacking 18 slices of bacon, it was deeply savory and satisfying. Topped with a squeeze of lemon and scooped up with some of the cafe's house-made pita, it was precisely what Munch needed. Even Brady, a regular consumer of McDonald's breakfast sandwiches, was surprised at how much he liked a vegan breakfast stew.

The Lebanese Breakfast Table ($8) was equally delightful. Described as "the way we eat at home," it's a "delicious mix of anything and everything," with the combination changing daily. On Saturday, it was pita bread, two kinds of olives, cucumber spears, eggs made to order and two small slices of veal sausage. It was arranged in a paper-lined tray with a small container of lebneh -- a house-made yogurt that's strained until it's thick, rich and potently tart -- for dipping. It was a complete masterpiece, the eggs pairing nicely with the sausage and pita, the cucumbers and lebneh off-setting the salt of the sausage. Brady declared the sausages alone worth a trip through the tunnels and up to Brookline.

The final two dishes are Middle Eastern standbys that many have likely tried: beef shawarma sandwich ($7) and tabbouleh ($7). They were nonetheless standouts, the sandwich generously filled with tender, perfectly seasoned beef. The tabbouleh, a salad of chopped parsley, tomatoes and bulgur topped with tart lemon juice, provided a nice finish to the meal. Parsley, too, is supposed to be a stomach soother.

In the end, Munch -- though covered in river muck and sweat -- felt much better. But you don't have to chug an Allegheny River cocktail of sewage, rainwater and post-industrial waste to truly enjoy Pitaland. Munch surmises you could enjoy it virtually any morning -- stomach illness or not.

Pitaland Cafe is at 620 Brookline Blvd., Brookline, inside Pitaland Mediterranean Bakery; 412-531-5040 and pitaland.com/cafe/.

munch@post-gazette.com or Twitter @ PGMunch. Become a Facebook Friend of Munch at www.facebook.com/munchPG.

munch

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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