Shawarma is the new street meat. Both a late night favourite and a quick lunch classic, the Middle Eastern dish is now ubiquitous on the streets of Toronto. At its best, the vertically roasted meat in a pita, topped with veggies is damn tasty and, if not healthy, probably better for you than a sausage. At its worst, it’s a mouthful of sawdust topped with rotten runny crap. Over the next few weeks, Torontoist will attempt to separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff and the tahini from the garlic mayonnaise.
750 Spadina (at Bloor).
Weekday hours: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Weekend hours: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 a.m.
If Pita-Q’s chicken shawarma were a colour, it would be ecru, eggshell, or even cream. It’s not painful, just staggeringly bland.
And while interior decorators may be able to compensate for dull wall colouring with the use of wall art and an interesting carpet, nothing can attract attention away from a bland shawarma.
Pita-Q, which also spells its name P-Ta-Q depending on which sign you’re looking at, gets love for not skimping on the chicken. That said, it would be better if they gave out less meat per serving but made it taste better, or taste like anything. Pita-Q’s bird has the texture of chicken, albeit dry chicken, but tastes like porridge. The tahini and garlic mayo are equally bland. If you really concentrate, you can almost taste garlic somewhere in there, but it may just be some form of self-hypnosis.
Pita-Q also has issues with the pita itself. Most shawarma joints put their sandwiches in some sort of warming device, be it a George Foreman grill or a focaccia toaster. Pita-Q puts the shawarma in a similar device, and then leaves it there. By the time it comes out the pita is hard and brittle, while the sandwich is strangely rectangular.
Thankfully, the folks at Pita-Q know how to do a couple things right. For one thing, they put pickled gherkins in the shawarma. In Ottawa, arguably Canada’s shawarma capital, the sandwich just ain’t right without something pickled, be it a gherkin or a turnip, tucked inside. Here in Toronto, we just can’t seem to understand the importance of pickled vegetables in the shawarma experience. The hot sauce is nicely done, too. Sharp and tangy without being eye wateringly strong, the sauce knows its place is to compliment the shawarma, rather than try to take over the show.
Sadly for the sauce, there’s not much there to compliment. By the time you get down to the hot sauce and the gherkins, you’ve already been thoroughly underwhelmed by Pita-Q’s epic lack of flavour.
If you know of a shawarma spot that deserves props, or that you feel the need to warn people about, leave a comment.