Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The bread is flat, but the flavour's not

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It's bright and clean, the front is all windows, and one canary yellow wall is dotted by photos of Lebanon, but -- unless you count the flames in the dramatic copper oven where everything is cooked -- there's nothing one could call decor. Orders are placed and picked up at a counter just opposite the entrance, and if you eat at one of the 20 or so seats it will be with plastic utensils. Takeout is clearly a big part of the operation.

You don't come to Baraka Pita for elegant dining. What you do come for are the delicious Lebanese specialties.

Whatever you order, and wherever you eat it, chances are you'll love it.

Stuffed pitas are probably the most popular items, and two in particular stood out: the shawarma with succulent slices of marinated chicken, doused with garlic sauce; and the kabob of ground lamb with tahini sauce.

Falafel were excellent, too, crunchy on the outside, moist within and fragrant with spices, among them one that bit back. The donair, like all local donairs (that I know of), is sliced from a commercially prepared roast, but it too was tasty.

They come rolled in a house-made pita with lettuce, tomatoes, pickled wild cucumber and, if wished, a dash of hot sauce, and they are big -- genuinely meal-sized, at $6.95 tops. Alternately (though not listed on the takeout menu) the same fillings are available as entrees, garnished with savoury rice pilaf and a tabbouleh parsley and cracked wheat salad for about $10.

They do pita pies as well, spread with ground beef, cheese, spinach and feta, or za'atar. The last has been described as an acquired taste -- a mixture of spices that includes the slightly tangy, slightly sour sumac -- but for me it was love at first bite.

There's a great, thick lentil soup, and the big, billowy pitas are so good you'll probably want to take a package home. Especially if you're also taking home containers of the mezze appetizers, like the smoky baba ghanouj of baked, mashed eggplant, the rice-stuffed vine leaves, the fabulously rich tzatziki, and the chickpea hummus, which comes in flavours -- traditional, sun-dried tomato or (best, I think) roasted red pepper. All are great party foods, as are the fatire -- pastry triangles filled with cheese, ground beef or spinach.

Be sure to take home some of the exquisite little pastries ($1.50 to $2). I've had many baklavas but none that compared to these incredibly delicate pastry layers and flavours that, although sweet, aren't cloying.

Some are honeyed, some aromatic with rose water, some are dotted with walnuts, some with pistachios, some with all the above. There's also a chocolate baklava -- not always available, but grab it when it is.

The staff are friendly and helpful. And it's open Sundays.

-- -- --

You don't come to Boon Burger for a tête-à-tête either. It's a trim but truly tiny place, and you need to be really sociable to eat here, since the only seating is on picnic benches at two long communal tables. Obviously much of the business is intended for takeout here, too.

But don't come for anything that is even remotely related to flesh. Boon started out as merely vegetarian, but very shortly after opening went totally vegan, which means not just no meat or fish, but no cheese, milk or eggs either. It has been enormously popular from Day 1, packing in not just vegetarian/vegans, but also many omnivores who may have set aside a day or two as a healthy holiday from meat. Or maybe they just like Boon's big tasty vegan burgers ($5.75-$7.75).

Predictably, all ingredients are organic and local when possible, and -- true to its name -- the house specializes in burgers that are tucked into thick whole-grain buns (gluten-free buns are also available). Several are based on mushroom-rice patties, and all are fleshed out (so to speak) with cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes. Add peach chutney and crispy onion and it becomes the Boon Burger; there's a nice tang of tapenade in the Greek burger; and cranberry sauce and maple-glazed yams add spark to the Thanksgiving's breaded "turkey" patty.

I found the Daiya cheddar, which appears in some of the other burgers, to be tasteless and rubbery, but I liked almost everything else I tried. Most of all, the Buddha Burger, partly because it was moist, textured and full of flavour, and partly because it tasted exactly how I expected a "curried chickpea patty with peach chutney and creamy cucumber sauce" to taste.

There are good soups -- curried pumpkin seems to be a regular du jour ($5.50, $6.50); a seed-dotted mixed green salad with a lovely ranch-style dressing ($5.95, $7.75); and sesame-sprinkled, oven-baked fries that weren't as crisp as regular deep-fried fries but not bad ($4.50, $5.95) -- all are available as sides for $3. The fries tasted a lot better under a decent vegan gravy in a poutine that was surprisingly good, apart from the tasteless but mercifully few white shreds that, I assume, were supposed to approximate cheese curds ($5.95, $7.50).

A dessert has only recently been added -- an organic dried banana, glazed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with coconut -- and it's irresistible. There's also a wide variety of organic teas and, of course, fair-trade coffee. Also open Sundays, until 4 p.m.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

DINING OUT

Baraka Pita Bakery

1783 Main St., 334-2004

Boon Burger Cafe,

79 Sherbrook St., 415-1391

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2010 D3

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