Wassim Matar admits that there is nothing complicated about making fresh pita bread. All it takes is four ingredients—flour, water, yeast, and a touch of sugar—plus a little time and heat. Yet almost no other restaurant bothers to do it. From blending their own harissa to reducing a fresh batch of pomegranate reduction, Phoenician Taverna does details right, and the pita bread is at the heart of their operation. In the kitchen, two pita ovens are stacked on top of each other (if one broke and there was no backup, Matar says, “the whole restaurant would shut down.”)
A giant Hobart mixer is used to make the dough, and another machine portions it into balls. After a brief rest in the refrigerator, the dough rises for an hour or so, and each soon-to-be-pita is rolled into an oval. The bread is then placed in a second chamber to proof. “There are no timers,” Matar says, “it’s all done by eye.” The ovals are dusted with coarse semolina flour, then placed on the oven’s conveyor belt. The pita emerges crispy, and steams briefly to achieve the softness that makes them very dangerous to one’s sense of restraint. Servers have a keen second sense of when you might be considering another one—which in my case is basically all the time
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