Rafael Nasr has come a long way since the days when he operated a food truck that sold late-night shwarma to TCU students. On Saturday, August 17, the native Houstonian (and St. Thomas High School graduate) will open the doors to Craft Pita, his fast-casual Lebanese restaurant in Briargrove (1920 Fountain View Dr.).
Inspired by his family’s cooking and the restaurant his uncle owns in Lebanon, Craft Pita serves a familiar mix of Lebanese favorites: mezze plates such as hummus, falafel, and roasted cauliflower; sandwiches made with pita bread; and rotisserie chicken. The twist is the care Nasr has put into his recipes and sourcing.
“What makes it different at the end of the day, we’re using olive oil from my family’s olive orchard in Lebanon. All of our olives are from [Lebanon] as well. We’re using Mediterranean sea salt; we don’t use iodized sea salt,” Nasr tells CultureMap. “We took a bunch of our authentic family recipes and did tailor some of them to the American palate, but at the end of the day, it is authentic Lebanese food in a more modern format.”
He’s betting diners will be able to taste the difference compared to other similar restaurants. Craft Pita makes its own hummus by boiling and soaking garbanzo beans. It grinds chickpeas to make its falafel. That’s akaushi beef from Texas’ Heartbrand Ranch in the kafta patties.
“I specifically put the chicken bowl on the menu. It has what we’re calling ‘Lebanese rice,’” Nasr’s mother and business partner Claudia says. “This is a celebratory dish; usually, when you make rice with beef and spices, it’s for a party. ... We’re going to make it here every day and give somebody this very special rice.”
Diners will find all of that food in a welcoming space in Briargrove’s Fountainview Square Shopping Center. Overall, the design eschews some of the typical design cues of Lebanese restaurant (no cedar trees here) in favor of a more modern look.
It’s an area that’s seen quite a bit of turnover, with Fountain View Cafe having closed at the end of 2018, Barnaby’s replacing Eatalia, and Austin-based burrito restaurant Cabo Bob’s on track to open this fall. Nasr’s bullish on the area and thinks the new arrivals can cement the shopping center as a dining destination.
“We had been searching for the last year. I knew I wanted to be in a good blend of residential meets commercial. Right here, we have Tanglewood, Briargrove, and all this office space,” Nasr says. “Having good shawarma and chicken pita has always been my first goal, and I knew I needed a good lunch crowd to do that.”
Looking at the branding and the configuration, it’s easy to see that Nasr could open more than one Craft Pita. He acknowledges those aspirations, but, for now, he needs to get the first one open and running smoothly.
Craft Pita will celebrate its grand opening on Saturday, August 17, with free pita chips and hummus with purchase, free pita sandwiches for the first 25 guests, and Saint Arnold beer samples from 11 am to 2 pm.