What We Want: Pita Bread
Illustration by JP Thimot
The best sandwich I’ve ever eaten was deceptively simple. Driving through the mountains of Armenia on an education consulting job, my colleagues and I stopped at a makeshift café at the side of the road. An elderly woman came out and offered us the one item on her menu: cheese sandwiches. But cheese sandwich doesn’t do justice to the meal we were served. Freshly made flat bread encased handcrafted, mild, pure white cheese and a smattering of fresh, coarsely chopped cilantro, dill, basil, and parsley (a bouquet of herbs common in Armenian cooking).
That’s it: flat bread, cheese, and an everyday blend of herbs. But as simple as it seems, try as I might, I’ve not been able to recreate the magic of that sandwich. Why not? Because freshness was the key. That sandwich was delicious because I was eating food made right there, with ingredients grown probably no farther than a mile from that roadside stand; it doesn’t get any fresher than that. And as the local food movement gains traction, people in this country, too, are beginning to understand the benefits of that concept from both intellectual and culinary standpoints.
There is, however, a bakery in Western New York that has been embracing that notion for more than fifty-four years. Pete’s Lebanese Bakery, in Kenmore, makes a flatbread that rivals the one I have been dreaming of since that trip to Armenia. They also make a variety of other goods, all equally tasty and fresh.
The flatbread is, of course, Lebanese and not Armenian, meaning there are differences in the traditional applications of the product. But the bread itself is as good as any you’d eat while traveling in that region. What really makes me salivate is just how good this bread is when you get it straight from the oven.
Don’t only buy the flatbread, though. A warm piece of pita from Pete’s—you can get one if you stop in midday during the week—can make me wax poetic for days. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more authentic piece of pita than one from this bakery’s unassuming storefront. Can you get pita bread elsewhere in the area? Yes. Is it easier to grab a bag of pita from a supermarket shelf during a routine grocery outing than to make a separate trip to a bakery? Sure. But is it worth an extra stop to get your pita (and flatbread, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, and baklava as well) from Pete’s? Definitely. And you’ll feel good about supporting an iconic small business that has operated for more than half a century by consistently producing high-quality products.
See, here’s the thing: We’re all running on empty. We all lead insanely busy lives. We all expect too much of ourselves, and reward too little. Fresh bread may not be a panacea for all that ails us as a society, but good bread—really good, really fresh, really homemade bread from Pete’s—is the kind of thing that helps us to pause and appreciate that which is authentic in our lives. It’s also the kind of thing that memories are made of. I’ve eaten thousands of sandwiches since that day on the mountain in Armenia, and I couldn’t tell you one detail about ninety-five percent of them. But a piece of Pete’s toasted pita bread stuffed with fresh hummus? That’s a meal worth remembering.
Pete’s Lebanese Bakery
2468 Elmwood Avenue; Kenmore, NY 14217
Rachel Fix Dominguez writers features and food coverage for Buffalo Spree.