Thursday, June 7, 2012

Having Struck Out…

in finding an (open) restaurant in Pearisburg for lunch, we set forth in The Big White Truck headed to Blacksburg, VA. Blacksburg is the home of Virginia Tech (full name: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) and is the largest town in the state of Virginia. In 2011, Businessweek named Blacksburg the "Best Place in the U.S. to Raise Kids."

We were flying without a compass, and after a trip down Main Street and not being inspired by the hamburger and pizza joints we passed, we turned around and backtracked.

“Let’s just park and the first restaurant we come across will be the place,” was my solution. Lucky for us, that placed turned out to be Pita Vera.

One year, the Virginia Tech students left for summer break. and when they returned, the Mediterranean-American restaurant they had known as More Than Coffee had morphed into Pita Vera with basically the same menu with the addition of more Mediterranean dishes.

“…this place is a pretty casual Mediterranean place in a small college town. Once you walk in, you notice all of the crazy artwork on the ceiling tiles of the entire restaurant, many of them designed by local students and artists. The menu has many of your traditional Lebanese/Mediterranean staples like Falafel, baba ghanoush, gyros, etc, as well as calzones and pizzas and hot-submarine sandwiches” (Alan H. at

“This is one of the hidden gems of Blacksburg food. Best (and only) kabob place in Blacksburg. They serve many different Middle Eastern foods, with small tapas style appetizer trays…. Their pita bread is the best in Blacksburg, thin and always served super warm…” (Alexandar I. at

In addition to the colorful ceiling, Pita Vera’s walls are hung with prints provided through a program of the Blacksburg Regional Arts Association that places works by local artists in commercial and public buildings. Being shown during our visit were acrylics by Linda L. Collier which depicted Virginia Tech athletes (or Hokies*) and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Both Chuck and I looked right past the American offerings and honed in on the Mediterranean. We decided to start with our choice of three appetizers on the Maza Tray ("maza" basically means an assortment of small plates). The hummus and Baba Ghanouj were definites, and after lengthy consultation with our server, we chose the Balila to round out the tray.

All three were excellent. The baba ghanouj (top left), which I preferred to the hummus (right) had a slightly smoky flavor that came from roasting the eggplant, which forms the base of this dish. The mashed roasted eggplant was mixed with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahani sauce with no one of the flavors predominating, but all merging into a cohesive whole. The hummus was silky smooth, but I would have liked a bit more garlic and lemon zip.

The balila (bottom right) was marvelous, and I am glad we tried something new. It consisted of warm whole chickpeas in a “broth” of chickpea cooking liquid, lemon juice, and olive oil. This was mixed with chopped tomatoes and onions and garnished with parsley. This is something that could be easily made at home and would be the perfect accompaniment to a meat dish like grilled chicken. The fourth small bowl contained chopped romaine, sliced cukes, and sliced black olives as garnish. These were set aside to go with my entrée selection. And in the center of the tray was a giant homemade pita that was light and puffy.

Both of our entrée choices came from the sandwich section. For Chuck, it was the classic gyro made with slices of marinated beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cucumber sauce.

I opted for the falafel wrap that, in addition to the falafel, contained the same accoutrements as Chuck’s gyro with some banana peppers added.

Both were good—good, but not great—representations of these Middle Eastern classics. They more resembled wraps and the pitas (not the same ones as on the maza tray) seemed like a cross between a traditional pita and a flour tortilla. And we both thought that our sandwiches needed more sauce.

Special mention has to be made of Chuck’s fries. Yes, they came out of a bag, but had this ultra light and crisp coating. I can’t remember whether I read somewhere that this is achieved by using corn starch or egg white, but the result is delicious.

This was surprisingly good Mediterranean food, but we decided that since Blacksburg is a university town it shouldn’t be surprising. It is good to know that one can find 4.0 Addie Middle Eastern eats in southwest Virginia.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

*”Here is the answer to that oft-posed question, "What's a Hokie?" The word ‘Hokie’ was coined by O. M. Stull (class of 1896), who used it in a spirit yell he wrote for a competition.... Stull won the $5 top prize for his cheer, now known as Old Hokie:

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs - Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.

Later, the phrase ‘Team! Team! Team!’ was added at the end, and an ‘e’ was added to ‘Hoki’” (

(Makes you long for the days of beanies and raccoon coats, doesn’t it?)

The original nickname for the athletic team was "The Gobblers" (and the origin of that term is uncertain--athletes "gobbled" their food or the 1909 football coach Branch Bocock initiated a spirit club among his players and called it The Gobbler Club).

But the "Gobbler" was not to last, at least in name. In the late 1970s, the university hired a football coach who heard the theory that the Gobbler mascot was based on athletes gobbling down their food. The coach didn't like the image, so he began promoting the "Hokie" nickname, and in 1982, the Hokie bird appeared.

And today, a number of "Hokie birds" can be found scattered around Blacksburg. One is shown on the right:

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