It's a sad day when you see one of your favorite restaurants papered up and empty, like I saw Pita Pete's the other day. Not that Pita Pete's was one of my favorite restaurants. It wasn't. The service was disinterested, the pitas were dry and crumbly, and some of the fillings came out of a can. But the owner was there every day, sloggin' away at the cash register, and you gotta respect that. Trying to resuscitate a dying restaurant is a shitty job.
Pita Pete's had pitas the size of an NFL football, filled with lots of stuff. First, you'd pick your protein (anything from roast beef to tuna to gyros) and then you'd point to all the additions you wanted the surly teenager behind the counter to add (anything from shredded lettuce to giardiniera to eight kinds of cheese). I normally had the chicken gyros (maximally processed) with the typical Greek accompaniments: tzatiki sauce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives. It was nothing to write home about, especially if your home is Athens.
But mediocre restaurants do serve a purpose: they remind us just how good other restaurants - restaurants that we might ordinarily write off - really are. One of the things that irked me about Pete's was that their pitas weren't well thought out. They were too big, you never got to taste everything in one bite thanks to the haphazard architecture, and by the time you were three quarters of the way through, the whole thing fell apart in your lap because the pita was too thin to hold 7 pounds of canned peas, iceberg lettuce, crumbled feta and a big, wet squirt of barbecue sauce. So when I went to Cosi to get a sandwich the other day, I fell in love with the flatbread, and thanked the management, and anyone else in close proximity, for giving me a sandwich where every bite included a bite of everything. Would I have felt this way had I not grappled my way through one of Pete's pitas?
So, Pete, thanks for giving me an alternative to Potbelly's (right next door), and for being lousy enough to make me appreciate Potbelly (even when I was really sick of it). So long, my pita-making friend.