“Fast-Casual” Shawarma Hits Temple Street

Golden? Firm? Sizzling? Check, check, and check.

Gassir Badawi grabbed a serrated knife and carved off hunks of spit-roasted chicken shawarma, pointing out how juicy it was as it fell into a waiting bowl.

Badawi, the 23-year-old manager of the Pitaziki Mediterranean Grill, used a metal bowl to collect the meat, the main ingredient of a soon-to-be-overstuffed pita sandwich. Click the video to see it come together.

Badawi and his family have been making the sandwiches for two weeks now, since they opened the sandwich shop at 170 Temple St., the former home of the Sahara Mediterranean restaurant.

Pitaziki is part of a growing number of “fast-casual” restaurants, eateries that promise quick lunches and dinners, at a higher quality than traditional fast food. Orange Street’s Tikkaway restaurant has become a popular spot for fast-casual Indian fare downtown.

Pitaziki has a service model similar to Tikkaway’s, with Middle-Eastern cuisine. Customers first pick a style of entree—pita, wrap, rice, or salad—then choose a main ingredient—chicken, beef, vegetables, falafel—then select from a bar full of sauces and toppings to complete the meal.

Badawi, who’s from Egypt, said the main chef at Pitaziki is from Syria. He prepares all of the sandwich ingredients from scratch, Badawi said. A spit full off juicy meat rotated slowly behind him as he spoke—chicken shawarma.

Shawarma is a traditional form of meat preparation in which meat is loaded onto a skewer and slowly roasted, sometimes for hours. The outside meat is cut off as it is ready.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoBadawi (pictured) demonstrated how it’s done at Pitaziki, while making a chicken shawarma pita sandwich.

He said the chicken—thinly sliced breast and thighs—is marinated in spices overnight before its stacked on the skewer. As it cooks, staff shaves it down periodically, keeping a hot bar on the sandwich prep table stocked with meat.

Pitaziki is the Badawi family’s first entree into New Haven’s restaurant scene, but the family is no stranger to food services. Badawi said his uncle and cousins have a similar restaurant in Canada, and his father, Khaled, was trained at a culinary school in London.

Badawi pulled out a whole-wheat pita and placed it in a pizza oven to warm. Pitaziki also offers “Mediterranean pizza,” which features Middle-Eastern-style toppings, like olives and feta cheese.

Badawi said the family came to New Haven 10 years ago, from Egypt. New York City was too crowded and expensive. New Haven had the same diversity, but smaller. “It’s like a New York that you can handle,” he said.

Badawi pulled out the pita and began stuffing it with ingredients. First, a healthy dollop of hummus. Then, a dollop of creamy garlic sauce. Taziki sauce is also available. Made from yogurt, mint, and cucumbers, taziki sauce is the inspiration for half of the restaurant’s name, along with pita bread.

Next, Badawi threw in some lettuce, followed by red onions seasoned with sumak. He added some pickles imported from Lebanon, and pickled turnips. He put in chickpea salad, seasoned with olive oil and lemon.

Finally he added the freshly roasted chicken shawarma and topped it with tahini and “hot shata” sauce—“Mediterranean-style hot sauce.”

Badawi served the sandwich with sides of pitted green olives, pickled turnips, and red cabbage. Pitaziki charges $6.95 for the final product.

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posted by: wendy1 on July 2, 2014  12:40pm

Quick and clean…nice interior with very high ceiling…good-looking staff.  I’m going back for more.  I apologized for AlSisi who went to school in the States and also for our lack of response to the Syrian uprising.  I am fond of Middle Eastern food but not of our US/Middle Eastern policy.

posted by: Jones Gore on July 6, 2014  10:13pm

I had iftar there. The Food is great. The Chicken Shawarma in a bowl remind me of the truck I visit on 4th and Atlantic in Brooklyn.