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Plano's Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill: The food excites, the business strategy doesn't.

Please don't take my couscous away!
Please don't take my couscous away!

Nothing rattles the old chains like an eating establishment that has the flavorful culinary bells and whistles firing on all cylinders, purring along like a finely tuned Aston Martin on the speedway, only to be inadvertently swept beneath the undertow of its own poorly-executed branding strategy. It pains me a great deal to report that Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill, located at suite C6 of 5800 Legacy Drive, succumbs to this common pitfall.

The unfortunate observation pains me most because Mama Pita's food is nothing short of excellent, and the idea of turning traditional mediterranean (i.e. Lebanon, Isreal, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and even possibly Northern Africa) cuisine into a giant "wrapped" food (think Chipotle or Freebird's) is an exciting and novel approach that should be applauded, especially when it's done as well as Mama Pita does it.

Step up to the counter and ponder which of the six succulent mediterranean dips to choose while the exceedingly pleasant staff warms your oversized pita. The pita is actually one of the few lows of the restaurant. I found it a little thin, tasting much more like a store-bought wheat tortilla than a pita, something you'll notice as soon as the "pita" cools. The dips fare much better. Choose from a competent hummus, a better-than-it-sounds rich beet or carrot tahini, a seminal eggplant baba ghannouj, a delicious but not-for-the-faint-of-breath garlic dip, or a crowd favorite, the refreshing cucumber tzatziki yogurt.

Move down the line for a salad selection: a zesty mixed green fattouch, the flavorful orzo with feta and lemon vinegrette, the strong parsley of tabbouleh, or my favorite, sweet and savory couscous. Next, have your cook pile on your choice of cracked wheat, cubed and delicately spiced patata (potatoes), or perfectly steamed basmati rice with lentils and caramelized onion. All are tremendous choices, but each patron will certainly have their favorites. Finally make your main protein selection of deliciously spiced chicken, beef, or shrimp skewer with grilled vegetables, succulent kafta (a pressed lamb and beef link), or herbaceous falafel, a crispy fried patty of fava and garbanzo beans. 

In the end, all of these ingredients are carefully rolled up into a giant "pita" for lucky patrons to enjoy. It's a welcome departure from the Texas pizza and tex-mex mainstays of semi-quick food, great for lunch or dinner on a short timetable. For those adventurous enough to give it a shot, satisfaction and future cravings for the same are assured.

While the food is beyond reproach, Mama Pita's brand strategy could end up causing damage to this diamond in the rough. We frequent the establishment, usually for dinner, and sadly from our observation, the traffic is slim, and so it seems most come to Mama Pita for lunch. Many restaurants can survive on lunchtime traffic alone, but with the Legacy district's hefty rent, one wonders whether it's enough to keep Mama Pita afloat.

The second issue I find is with the name. Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill's title could be a tad misleading as judged by some of the unsuspecting patrons that enter. Several pita places can be found throughout the metroplex serving the more identifiable subway style ingredients wrapped sandwich style in a thick pita bread with a side of potato chips. Mama Pita is not that kind of place. It's something more, something special, unique, and exotic. We have witnessed several potential customers enter with a little trepidation, only to be greeted with staff member offering free falafel from behind the counter. While I happen to enjoy falafel, it is a food with strong, specific tastes that most will either immediately love or hate, perhaps not the best introduction to the restaurant's cuisine. I have witnessed more than a few take a small bite of falafel, grimace a bit, and end up skulking out of the place, hoping desperately not to be noticed. While the falafel may seem a perfect finger-food to pass out, perhaps a tiny cup or fried pita chip of tzatziki or carrot tahini would fare better with new inductees. 

The fourth problem I have become increasingly annoyed by is the constant tinkering with the menu. My personal favorites are the couscous, the cracked wheat, and the garlic dip (though my wife secretly wishes I'd go for something easier on the breath). I certainly understand that a newish establishment must cater to the likes of their clientele, but no less than three times have I been disappointed that one or more of these features have been stricken and replaced, and stricken and replaced again from the menu due to demand or lack thereof. The solution I would offer, rather than disappoint some returning customers would be to keep these original mediterranean mainstays and just cook less of them rather than strike them completely from the menu day to day. This type of restaurant thrives on their consistency of customers knowing what they're going to get when they want to get it, not hoping against hope that they fired the dishes you crave each time you make the trip.

In summation, Mama Pita won't be for everyone, but for those who give it a try, far more will be pleased and rearing to return again. It's a flavor that requires a little adventure, but it pays off in a big way if you let it. Let's face it, don't we Texans eat enough steaks, tacos, and refried beans? Everything's bigger in Texas, why not add our culinary curiosities to the list?


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