Pick a peck of pocket pitas
In the 12 years I lived in Kailua, already home to several decent restaurants, I wished for three things that would have made it impossible to leave: a good Japanese restaurant, a casual inexpensive Middle Eastern restaurant and a dim sum restaurant. Instead, nothing but pasta and breakfast joints popped up all over the place.
Well, a month after I moving to town, the excellent Sushi Kai opened. Now, there's Pitapocket Café, where a shwarma plate tops out at $12. Dim sum has yet to turn up, but two out of three ain't bad.
I guess other Kailuans must have been thinking the same thing regarding Middle Eastern fare. Pascale Devaux-Sher, a partner in Pitapocket along with her husband Tony Sher and daughter Gwenaelle Sher, said they make the journey from their home in Hauula because Kailua residents were some of Tony's best customers when he was working at another Middle Eastern restaurant in Hauula.
So Kailua seemed a natural place to fulfill Tony's dreams of running a restaurant serving Israeli-style fare. Although he hails from South Africa, his family now lives in Israel and taught him the cooking methods of their adopted home, while Pascale and Gwenaelle add a few twists such as pesto or kalamata-and-sun-dried tomato hummus from time to time. The trio aims to offer more specials, borrowing from Pascale's experience with French cuisine, as their clientele builds.
I thought it might be a good place to suggest for those hoping to start on the right track with their 2006 diet resolutions. Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisine is known to offer some of the most nutritionally sound dishes without any sacrifice to the pleasure gods.
While that's generally true at Pitapocket, desserts will be your downfall and I do have to warn you that sandwich portions are twice as large as at similar restaurants. Two sandwiches probably add up to a good 5 pounds, as much as a newborn. They're swaddled in drip-catching white paper that diners gingerly lift from their baskets. Both hands are needed for the task.
"That was Tony's idea," Pascale said. "He was determined not to let anyone leave here hungry. A lot of people do take half home to have later as a snack or for a meal the next day. Or people share. We can cut it down so each person has their own sandwich."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gwenaelle Sher holds a Pitapocket tabbouleh salad in the Sher family's Kailua restaurant. Joining her are her twin brothers Sage, left, and Zane, her mother Pascale Devaux-Sher, and father Tony Sher.
THE RESTAURANT is situated in a non-descript one-story building across the street from The Source on Kainehe Street, and in the space formerly occupied by Kevin Two Boots at the end of the row. A sign identifying the businesses is typically old Kailua, all kapakahi, with the most prominent sign advertising Koi Tattoo. Pitapocket is the newest addition at the very top of the sign.
The restaurant's interior is casual with walk-up counter service. Read the menu from the board, or just grab one off the sturdy metal outdoorsy tables. Decor comes in the form of rotating exhibition by local artists, as a way of helping those starting out "coz starving artists are all over the place," said Pascale. "I used to be one myself."
The menu is a short read and entrées are available in plate or sandwich form. Plates generally cost about $3.50 more, but for the price you get a helping of couscous and tabbouleh salad that's westernized with the additions of lettuce and spinach.
The benefit of ordering a plate for prissy types is that they get to keep their hands clean because the pita sandwiches can be messy. The pocket bread is stuffed to near overflowing with a spread of garlicky hummus, cabbage, beets, onions, olives and pickles with a touch of lemony sesame sauce and your choice of a main ingredient. With sandwiches like these, you certainly won't need a side salad or appetizers, although those are on the short menu as well.
If you are attempting to get healthy, look no further than the falafel plate ($11.50) or sandwich ($8). The chickpea patties are at once fluffy, crunchy and nutty, the best I've had locally. You won't miss meat at all when you taste this glorious mix of falafel and veggies. There's also a fried eggplant and boiled egg sandwich ($8), but it pales to the texture of the homemade falafel.
Everything here, from the pitas to the cream cheese and raisin-filled blintzes ($5), is homemade, and Pascale says they're trying their best to accommodate diners' taste -- as we all know, a no-win situation, as with the love-hate relationship we have with the flavor vs. the lingering perfume of garlic.
"We cut back on the garlic because some people were complaining there was too much garlic; then people from the Middle East would come in and say there's not enough garlic.
"I'm just trying to have mints for people but they go so fast!"