Greek with a twist

Pita Village improvises on classics

Village Gyros from Pita Village, photography by Neal Bruns
Gus's Avgolemono Soupa from Pita Village, photography by Neal Bruns

If your only familiarity with hummus is the pureed pablum in plastic cups you can buy at the grocery store, then you need to stop by Pita Village on Dupont Road and take a bite of owner Leni Rich’s hummus. We’ll wait …

Now you know what hummus can be and should be. Rich’s hummus, like her name, is rich with texture and flavors. Served with warm pita triangles, her hummus incorporates fresh herbs like basil and lavender, and it’s got bits of the chickpeas that make up its base so you know it has been freshly made in-house each day. It’s several levels above the hummus available in town, and you should try it immediately, though it will ruin supermarket hummus for you forever. Trust us on this.

But it’s not just the hummus that excels at Pita Village. Rich has taken recipes from her Greek-born mother, Lecha Dodos, and put her own spin on them, making them healthier and even more delicious.

“My mother is a great inspiration,” Rich said. “My dad was a great cook, too, and my sister.”

The Lansing, Mich., native is the only member of her immediate family born in the United States. The Dodos family emigrated from Kastoria, Greece in the 1950s and came through Ellis Island in New York City. Rich, then Leni Dodos, followed her sister and brother-in-law, Victoria and George Naselaris, to Fort Wayne. The Naselarises help out at Pita Village, too, supplementing her small staff.

Rich had never worked in the restaurant business before opening Pita Village in 2013, having worked in the transportation industry, though her family has experience in the restaurant business. Two months after opening day, she married Bob Rich.

“He comes and helps me out,” she said, smiling.

The Pita Village menu is small, but the restaurant has a steady stream of customers lured by Rich’s flavorful takes on Greek dishes including gyros and Greek salad. Her “mezes,” or small bites, comprise Rich’s spin on tapas and include dolmades (grape leaves wrapped around meat and rice) and spanakopita, the popular spinach and feta cheese pie. Rich said she likes to kick the spices up a notch, which is why her hot red pepper bean dip is popular. It’s made with northern beans, hot peppers, basil and olive oil, making it vegan. The aforementioned hummus is not spicy, but it has a nice tanginess.

Saturdays are the day Rich really lets loose in the kitchen, whipping up weekly specials such as chicken souvlaki (whose recipe she kindly shared with Fort Wayne Magazine), calamari salad, moussaka and pastichio. Those specialties are only available on Saturdays, though.

“I wasn’t sure what people would respond to and like,” Rich said. “Our menu has been tweaked. It’s Greek food with a twist.”

The classic Greek spices of oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg are Rich’s favorites to use, along with flavorful olive oils. And Rich makes the traditional and wildly popular Greek dessert known as baklava by hand each week.

“Fresh is the way I want to cook,” she said. “It’s important to me. What I tell my guests is, if I don’t like it, you’re not going to see it. That’s the way I believe it should be.”

While Pita Village is located in a strip mall on the north side of Dupont Road near the Kroger Marketplace, the interior features a decidedly un-strip-mall handpainted mural depicting Greek life, created for the restaurant by local artist Nancy Wagner. Decorated in blues and warm brown wood, the restaurant makes dishes to order, so there can sometimes be a short wait. As Rich said, “It’s not a fast-food concept. It’s fresh Greek food as fast as possible.”

As hers is one of only a small handful of Greek restaurants in town, Rich welcomes tours from local schoolchildren and often caters events for doctors and pharmaceutical representatives who bring her dishes to Parkview Regional Medical Center and Dupont Hospital. Rich said she has a lot of repeat business.

 


Pita Village’s Chicken Souvlaki with Sweet Pepper and Pumpkin Couscous
Serves 4

Chicken
2 pounds chicken breast, cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
5 roasted garlic cloves, diced
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1½ teaspoons dried oregano

1. Marinate chicken in olive oil and spices at least four hours or overnight.

2. Thread marinated chicken on skewers and grill over medium heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes total (5 minutes per side). Set aside and keep warm.

Sweet peppers
1-2 pounds small sweet peppers (red, yellow or orange or a combination)
1½ teaspoons coriander
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1½ tablespoons sweet basil (dried), plus 2 fresh basil leaves, torn in pieces
½ teaspoon white pepper
Dash each sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil

3. Cut peppers in half if they are large, or leave whole and brush with olive oil. Grill over medium heat until nicely charred. Toss in bowl containing spices listed above and set aside.

Couscous
1 cup medium grain couscous
3 cups water, broth or tomato juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 green onions, washed and sliced
3 Roma tomatoes, washed and quartered
¼ cup olive oil
10 ounces cooked pure pumpkin

4. Bring water, broth or tomato juice to rapid boil and add 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir in couscous. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 8-10 minutes, then fluff with fork.

5. Place onions, tomatoes and pumpkin in food processor and puree. Use ½ cup to mix into couscous.

6. Plate couscous, top with chicken and sweet peppers, then pour remaining sauce over all.

First appeared in the August 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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