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Food Dude

Rhyming with history at QT and Pita Pit

3/4/2015

Cultural criticism is elitist by necessity. If critics praised that which was popular, they would be redundant. Academy Awards do not go to popular movies so much as to esoteric films. Only a brave critic would praise fast food before it becomes obsolete. Consider the original fast food genre — the automat — chain stores that dispensed food through coin-operated machines. Edward Hopper’s painting, “Automat,” served as the cover of a Time magazine story about urban alienation. In “Touch of Mink,” Doris Day steals from an automat because she is unemployable, ironically being skilled only at computer programming. In “Just This Once,” poor girl Janet Leigh forces trendy boyfriend Peter Lawford to eat in one. Now dead and gone, automats are being glamorized in television series like “Agent Carter” and futuristic movies like “Dark City.” As Mark Twain reportedly said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

A “gyro” at Pita Pit.

A “gyro” at Pita Pit.

QT Kitchens are the new automats. One orders on touch screens. Receipts are spit out of computers. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based QT has stores from the Carolinas to Phoenix, with a strong presence in the south. QT Kitchens, designed by executive chef Nick Powell, all use the same menu. You will thusly find some unusual things for Iowa. Ice teas are dispensed in six flavors, all with both sweet and unsweetened options. Kolaches are served but they have no resemblance to those of Cedar Rapids or Spillville. Instead of pastries with fruit filling (“Czech bismarcks” to my mother) these are savory sandwiches, similar to Nebraskan runzas. One version is stuffed with a Czech sausage, and the other with bacon, scrambled eggs and melted cheese.

Flatbread sandwiches were served in three versions. Chopped steak with jalapenos and cheese resembled Philly cheese steaks. Chicken came with bacon and ranch dressing or with pepper cheese blend, chipotle sauce and salsa. Grilled cheese sandwiches were served with or without four strips of bacon, on sourdough. Italian toasted cheese came on garlic bread with three cheeses. Pretzels, including cinnamon and Parmesan versions, were served with melted cheese or marinara dips.

The stars of the show, and the best sellers according to Powell, were pizza — both personal pan pies and full-sized. Nothing is fancy here, just flaky, crusted pies with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, olives, peppers, mushrooms and onions. These are not quite as heavy, crust-wise or wallet-wise, as the popular Casey’s pizza. Drinks included the new ingénues of American fast food — a full espresso bar, smoothies and frozen lemonades.

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A new Pita Pit sits in the former Bob Brown Chevrolet parking lot. The real estate’s previous life is suggested in signage that separates the lot into “Pre Owned” and “New” sections. This restaurant is a little of both. Pita Pit has been around since 1995 in Canada but only recently came to the metro. Now American-owned, the chain frequently appears on industry magazine lists of the top franchises in America. They are sometimes called a Lebanese-style sandwich shop, but the resemblance is minimal.

They are more like Jimmy John’s with unleavened bread. Sandwiches were wrapped in burrito sized, white or wheat pita and stuffed with grilled meats, vegetables, toppings and sauces. Inside, signage repeatedly proclaimed “Fresh Thinking, Healthy Eating.” This store resembles the motto with a larger range of vegetables than most sandwich shops. Hummus, Romaine and tzatziki sauce are not usual toppings. However, babaganoush, red pepper hummus, roast peppers, black beans and other vegetables mentioned on the company’s website were not available. I should have suspected that a store that spells “gyro” without an “s” has Americanized that food. There was no rotisserie and the meat, grilled on a flat-top stove, had minimal lamb flavor. Souvlaki also was similarly different from what one expects. CV

QT Kitchens
17 local locations open 24-7

Pita Pit
4212 Merle Hay Rd., Urbandale, 331-2412 (also in Ankeny)
Mon. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.,
Sun. 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

 

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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