Hummus heaven: Pita Inn comes home

After years of buying and happily consuming Pita Inn's creamy hummus (available at Integral Yoga and Giant), I was thrilled to finally meet its maker right here in Charlottesville.

I suppose I'm guilty of not reading the label carefully, or of bypassing words in favor of the evocative illustration on the lid– palm trees, whitewashed buildings, puffed-up sailboats on a calm sea, mountains in the background. Call me a dreamer, but I just assumed that this divine blend of chickpeas ("hummus" is Arabic for "chickpea"), tahini, lemon, and other natural flavors– red pepper, garlic, scallion– was made somewhere faraway, somewhere slightly more exotic than the Route 250 bypass.

Yet I gladly gave up the fantasy when I discovered the recently opened (May 11) Pita Inn Mediterranean Bistro in a little shopping plaza, sandwiched between Papa John's and the former Thai Thip (soon to be a Mexican) restaurant. You see, another fantasy of mine has been that an authentic Middle-Eastern eatery would open in Charlottesville, thus saving me gas money on trips to the Lebanese Taverna in D.C. for my kibbeh and falafel fix.

Pita Inn owner George Nader made my dream come true this month. Nader, who's Lebanese, actually started the Pita Inn on the Corner (in the current Amigo's spot) back in 1995 and ran it there for four years. In favor of simplicity, he and his wife, Mili Nader (an architect who now shapes ground chickpeas into perfect falafel disks), closed the Corner restaurant and opened Emily's Bakery in the bypass location in 2000. The bakery's focus was of course on George's sweets– pistachio and walnut baklava, baklava cheesecake (George's invention), and crème brulée (a former French colony, Lebanese cuisine reflects the influence). Weekly production of their hummus chugged on through the transition.

Four years later, George decided it was time to return to a full-fledged bistro. "Customers from the original Pita Inn kept asking me when I would open another restaurant," he told Dish. "People really love my falafel, and this location is quiet and easy to manage."

For the new Pita Inn, George and Mili have kept the best things from the bakery and added a full menu of home-made Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean delights: appetizers like "hummus awarma" (hummus topped with ground beef, red onions and pine nuts), "labneh" (home-made strained yogurt topped with olive oil, mint, and Calamata olives) and "foul" (fava beans cooked with lemon, garlic, and olive oil); lunch fare like salads and pita sandwiches (falafel, kebbeh), and a full pizza menu. Entrées like kabobs (shish, chicken, kafta), souvlaki, and various veggie combos round out the offerings. Mili designed the little eat-in dining room, which seats about 36. Take-out and catering are also available.

Kabob note: innovative kabob-shop Sticks will be opening its second restaurant in early June in the Rivanna Ridge shopping center, just up Pantops mountain from the Pita Inn. And here's a little secret: Zandi's, a bakery-deli just off Route 29 (Seminole Trail), serves up authentic Persian kabobs every Friday.


Farmington Grill, post-conflagration

 Dish readers and Farmington Country Club members alike will recall the three-alarm fire that began on November 3, 2003 in the duct-work of the Farmington Grill's wood-burning pizza oven and caused extensive (smoke and water) damage to both the restaurant and Golf Shop. Well, the good news for members and their guests is that, following extensive ($1 million) reconstruction and renovations, the Grill re-opened with a new menu and a new décor on Wednesday, May 12.

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Pita Inn's George and Mili Nader

Mili Nader molds the falafel.