Eat the Strip

Pita Bell Kabab Charcoal Grill

1696 Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON K2A 1C6

April 8, 2023 10:13 AM

By: Sergio Gonzalez


A hidden gem, if I’ve ever seen one.

Pita Bell offers the closest thing I’ve experienced to being transported from one side of the world to another.

The location is a favourite of this blog. A strip mall on Carling Avenue, located between an auto repair shop and a family dentist. At night, the dentist’s massive sign in shape of a tooth misfires, and the pulsating light coming off the enlarged denticle adds as much character as the dozens of family cars, vans and SUVs taking up every single inch of available parking real estate.

The location’s entrance and lobby are very unassuming, and in many ways what I expected when I blindly arrived to have what I thought would be a simple shawarma tasting. The lobby has a large counter, behind it a fridge with cold drinks, and a screen showing some food from the restaurant. Against the walls there are comfortable benches that could sit a dozen people while they wait for their takeout.

Or so I thought.

The first sign that I was not where I thought I was the lack of a menu. I expected a sign atop the counter, with the different dishes of the day and some photographs of the food, for those who aren’t familiar with the cuisine from that part of the world. But no menu, board or photos could be found. Instead, a standalone sign read “Please wait to be seated.”

Confused, we waited.

The dining area proper is upstairs, and within a few seconds you forget that you are in an industrial neighbourhood. Intricate copper fixtures, carved serving trays, tandem teapots and Turkish lanterns take over the scene. A large bar draped in etched copper extends for half of the length of the whole dinning room. And large windows and skylights make all the metal shine with life.

And then there’s the food.

We arrived shortly before Iftar, the evening fast-breaking meal during Ramadan.

We had Turkish-style tea, brewed and served in a dual teapot. The top chamber having the concentrated tea and the bottom one boiling-hot water. Served in beautiful glass and copper pots, with sugar to taste.

Turkish tea is typically prepared using two stacked teapots called "çaydanlık" specifically designed for tea preparation where water is brought to a boil in the larger lower teapot and then some of the water is used to fill the smaller teapot on top and steep several spoons of loose tea leaves, producing tea with a strong flavour
Turkish tea is typically prepared using two stacked teapots called "çaydanlık" specifically designed for tea preparation where water is brought to a boil in the larger lower teapot and then some of the water is used to fill the smaller teapot on top and steep several spoons of loose tea leaves, producing tea with a strong flavour

As the Maghrib prayer ended, we had dates, a complementary lentil stew and a fresh garden salad.

Then the food started to arrive.

I’ll clarify that when trying new places, we often ask the staff to simply give us the most popular dish, or what they think encapsulates the palate of flavours and textures of the kitchen.

We were not ready.

The first thing to arrive was a hummus plate with some warm pita cut into small triangles. Then what I would call the best toum (garlic sauce) I’ve ever had in Canada. After that, baba ghanoush. And more pita.

A common variation of toum (garlic sauce) is made with garlic, salt, olive oil or vegetable oil, and lemon juice, traditionally crushed together using a wooden mortar and pestle
A common variation of toum (garlic sauce) is made with garlic, salt, olive oil or vegetable oil, and lemon juice, traditionally crushed together using a wooden mortar and pestle

I had already eaten supper prior to arriving the restaurant, thinking I was there for a small taste of their menu, and after all the dips, dates, soup, salads and pita, I wasn’t sure I could eat much more.

Once again, I was wrong.

Pita Bell Kabab’s logo, like the lobby itself, is very unassuming. It’s a round circle, with the name of the restaurant wrapped within the circumference, with a “PB” in the center. Below, a black rectangle with yellow capital letters reads “CHARCOAL GRILL” with little flames coming off it, adding colour to the emblem.

I’ve had my fair share of experiences eating at places with “charcoal grilled”or “in-house smoked” or ‘barbequed daily” on their signs. So much so that I rarely pay attention to it. This time, it caught me by full surprise. Pita Bell uses real charcoal, in a real Turkish grill, giving their dishes flavourful char one the outside and soft, juicy goodness in the inside.

We were served what I later found out to be the Pita Bell family platter. It serves six.

The meal is presented in a copper serving plate, the size of a skateboard. At the edges, there are two mounds of rice adorned with raisins and almonds. (There is a fries substitution option). Between the valley of rice, the kebabs are laid out, covered by charred onions and peppers from the same grill. This platter had Adana kebab (long, hand-minced lamb meat), Shish taouk (marinated chicken, we got ours spicy), and a filet mignon kebab so perfectly cooked that you could cut with a spoon. (I had lost my fork at some point). And more pita.

The platter arrived shortly after evening prayers ended and the dining room, filled with families, dug into their meals as the servers brought out even larger platters of perfectly grilled meats, rice, breads and vegetables from the kitchen
The platter arrived shortly after evening prayers ended and the dining room, filled with families, dug into their meals as the servers brought out even larger platters of perfectly grilled meats, rice, breads and vegetables from the kitchen

You must have more pita.

By the time the waiter came back to ask if we wanted desert, the thought of food alone was enough to make my stomach burst.

We headed to the counter to pay the bill. We split it four ways, even though there was enough food to feed up to six, and the total damage came to around $30 per person. Steep, but oh so worth it.

After a round of coca colas, we exited the restaurant, finding ourselves back in the middle of Carling Ave’s auto repair district, the dentist’s stroboscopic tooth still pulsating away in the night.