The Canyon Crest Towne Center is a hidden gem of sorts. Away from the bustling, packed restaurants on campus and off University Avenue, it offers a selection of unique eateries and shops that can be enjoyed by students and faculty alike, just a few minutes south of lot 30. Though it is a bit gentrified and can be pricey, two of my favorite Riverside restaurants, namely Bucket List Burgers and Subs and Spuds, are located there. It is almost a weekly ritual that I get in my car and head to the Canyon Crest Towne Center to recover from a nasty hangover or try to fuel up before a tough midterm. This simple fact is what made my experience at Extreme Pita so disappointing. While merely boring at best, its proximity to an innumerable number of better establishments ruined my experience.
My girlfriend and I arrived a few minutes past four in the calm interim between the late-lunch and early-dinner rush to meet Laura, who would be photographing our meal. The air was warm and sticky, and small globs of people huddled in the shade underneath the patio umbrellas or near the central fountain, trying to cool off in the scarce splashes of watery mist. Extreme Pita was wedged far into the corner, stuck between the parking lot and the popular pizza joint Canyon Crust, its small floor occupied by a smattering of customers.
The inside was painted in a mishmash of grey and blue in contrast to the warm, earthy tones most restaurants are painted to put patrons in a relaxed and hungry mood.The executives of Extreme Pita must have never gotten the memo, and instead attempted to emulate the feeling of the canteen in a hospital for terminally ill children. The wide, toothy grins of the employees reflected off the sterile, glass sneeze guard that separated myself and my entourage from the trays of unappetizing meat-like objects and vegetables set into the counter.
Disappointment aside, I took stock of how Extreme Pita ran counter to my initial expectations. Rather than being the homespun, Mediterranean restaurant I had been expecting (something along the lines of the delightful Elias Pita located off University), it was instead a Subway-esque sandwich shop with a slight Mediterranean tinge. I hoped it would be a welcome respite from the dim banality that encompasses the empty, disappointing ennui that is eating at Subway, but it fell short of its execution.
Subway offers a wide range of disappointing meats and wilted vegetables on a cornucopia of different breads, while Extreme Pita offers a much smaller selection of meats and vegetables on one type of bread for $6.99 each. With none of the wraps, which included cold chicken shawarma and gyros, catching my eye, I settled on a pepperoni, olive and spinach pizza served on pita bread, while my companions chose the chicken schwarma and the gyro wrap. The cashier was nice and cheery, and despite my mounting disappointment, I was impressed by the prompt and courteous service. To accompany my meal, I decided to upgrade to a combo, which included a fountain drink and a cup of broccoli and cheddar soup.
After filling my cup with some watery blackberry and jasmine green tea, we headed outside to get away from the spartan interior. I didn’t envy Laura’s predicament, as trying to take decent photographs of our meals was an exercise in futility. My pizza was neither good nor bad — its overall mediocrity neither excited nor offended my palette. It tasted quite a bit like the pizza Lunchables I used to eat in elementary school, so I would recommend ordering one if you’re feeling nostalgic. Its general blandness paired well with my watery soup and watery tea, and I found myself unable to care about my meal. I longed for the other, better restaurants that surrounded the central dining area, resenting my journalistic obligations.
Laura and Racheal were equally disappointed, the powdery pita of their wraps doing no favors for the bland meat contained within. We all tried a sample of each other’s entree, and I was unable to taste the hummus, cucumber or garlic sauce that was supposed to be inside the chicken shawarma wrap. It slowly occurred to me that my initial suspicions were incorrect. Rather than being an American-style sandwich shop with a Mediterranean twist, Extreme Pita is Mediterranean food with all the flavor and uniqueness washed away. It is whitewashed cuisine, designed to be eaten by milquetoast accountants and boring yuppies that are scared to try actual food, lest it offend their sensitive psyches. Extreme Pita is a misnomer. It should be called “Boring Pita” instead.
I would like to clarify that a large part of my disappointment stems from the fact that there are innumerable better, cheaper restaurants all around UCR, and Extreme Pita feels like an insult to the wonderful blend of cultures and cuisines that makes up our local eateries. I love Mediterranean food, and I couldn’t shake the knowledge that there is cheaper, handcrafted Mediterranean food only a few blocks away. It was just a boring, whitewashed, disappointing meal that is at best below average and at worst offensively bland.