Pitas for pennies

March 9, 2009 8:31:39 AM PDT
The Middle Eastern staple is being produced on a grand scale in Chicago.We all want to spend less these days. How does 99 cents for a package of ten, freshly-baked pita breads sound?

At a new Lebanese bakery on the city's far North Side, you can indulge in pita and lavash, for just pennies, thanks to the large volume they're producing everyday.

The workers start around midnight, dumping flour, sugar, yeast and water into giant mixing bowls to make the dough for what will become thousands of pita loaves. It happens in the back of the new Sanabel Bakery, a Lebanese operation that relishes tradition, in Albany Park.

"So the whole process takes about, I think they're done making the pita bread about four, five o'clock in the morning, so it's a four-and-a-half hour process," said Elie Mounsef, co-owner of the Sanabel Bakery.

Everything is mechanized: from the dough being punched out to the size of a biscuit, to the circuitous route it takes through a conveyor, "proofing" and resting; then a brief roll-out and slap-down; another 30 minutes of "proofing," and finally, a one-minute ride through the blazing hot oven. A few feet away, an identical machine cranks out larger lavash.

"It's a different form of pita, the lavash-type bread. They use that type of bread - the Lebanese people - for their sandwiches," said Mounsef.

They also use it as a scooping vessel for savory dips. At restaurants like Reza's - which has locations in the city and Oak Brook - the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern menu includes plenty of Sanabel's pita.

"First of all, they use whole wheat grain which is very healthy. And the quality of their flour that they're using is high quality; and basically I love the bread and I like the texture," said Joseph Toulabi, owner of Reza's.

Texture is important, since you have to have structure to be able to scoop up thick hummus or chunky tabouli. Toulabi says pita fits the bill.

"Pita is a complement to Mediterranean food. So, it goes well with this kind of cuisine," said Toulabi.

Falafel sandwiches are another test. When stuffing them with fried balls of chickpeas and parsley, you need a pita that's sturdy yet soft.

"I have tried so many breads, so many breads and this is by far the best one," Toulabi said.

Sanabel also makes delicious spinach, cheese and meat pies and sells Middle Eastern groceries in the front of the store. Incidentally, their pita and lavash is sold all over Chicago, including Shop 'n Save, Stanley's and Fresh Farms as well as in restaurants like Old Jerusalem and Hashalom.

Sanabel Bakery
4253 N. Kedzie

432 W. Ontario

40 N. Tower Rd., Oakbrook

5255 N. Clark St.

Some other stores to get Sanabel pita:
Shop 'n Save
Joe Caputo
Fresh Farms

Other restaurants carrying it:
Old Jerusalem
Pita Express