As I walked up to the Soomsoom Pita Pockets truck to place our order, I had the most virtuous of intentions. Really, I did.
My wife had dibs on the chicken shawarma, and I was going to order one of the vegetarian pitas. Meatless options account for more than half the menu at Soomsoom, so I figured I should try one of them. I just hadn’t decided which one. I was torn between the grilled cauliflower with roasted potatoes and Greek yogurt tzatziki, and the grilled eggplant with slow-cooked egg, tahini and Israeli salad.
My wife was holding down the fort at the picnic table we’d scored on this unseasonably mild March day at LoneRider Brewing Company, so when I got to the window, I asked the man taking orders for his recommendation.
I recognized him from his photo on the website as owner/chef Oren Wais, so I figured he would steer me right. Wais, a native of Tel Aviv, Israel, moved to the Triangle about five years ago to be with his wife, who was earning a Ph.D. at Duke. He worked at Nana’s and Piedmont in Durham before putting his truck on the road in October 2014.
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OK, maybe I could have phrased my question more precisely.
“I’d like a chicken shawarma pita for my wife,” I said, “and what would you suggest for me?”
“Get the beef ragu,” he said. “We slow-cook short rib all night with celery and onion, then we cut it when it’s cool and return it to the braising liquid with carrots, garlic and herbs.“
Who was I to argue with the chef? I ordered the short rib ragu, and any nagging whispers of guilt at my lack of willpower were quickly drowned in a chorus of succulent beef and vegetables, packed into a thick, soft pillow of pita, drizzled with tahini and garnished with a pickle. I later learned that Wais flies in par-baked pocket pitas from Angel Bakeries in New York (“They’re just like the ones in Tel Aviv,” he says), and finishes baking them as needed. Gluten-free pita from Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill is also available. The pickles are the true brine-fermented style popular in Israel.
My wife’s chicken shawarma (she let me have a bite; OK, a couple bites) was also first-rate, well-seasoned with a 12-spice blend and topped with caramelized onions and tahini. A side of roasted skin-on potatoes, served with a garlicky, parsley-spangled aioli, went a long way toward my guilt at not having ordered a vegetarian pita. So did an order of hummus, drizzled with olive oil and spangled with a colorful patchwork of tahini, paprika, cumin and chopped parsley.
It was all so good, in fact, that my wife and I are already planning another visit. We’re thinking about catching up with the truck at the Durham Farmers’ Market, where Soomsoom is a regular on Saturday mornings. That’s when the menu expands to include specials such as lamb kebabs or burgers and shakshuka (Israeli-style eggs simmered in tomato sauce).
If we go in the morning, I really should get the grilled eggplant and egg pita. I understand it’s a popular breakfast sandwich in Israel, where it’s known as sabich.
Of course, the short rib ragu will be even harder to resist, now that I know how good it is. Maybe I can talk my wife into ordering the sabich. She likes eggplant, and I’m sure she’d take one for the team. Especially if I promise to take her to The Parlour for ice cream afterward.
Soomsoom Pita Pockets
Prices: pita sandwiches $9-12, sides $4-5