Over-stuffed Pitas and Secret Sauces

by Cathy Adams

     How do you describe falafel? A vegetable croquette? A vegetable burger? Neither does it justice. Nor does a stark description since its main ingredient, ground chickpeas mixed with spice and herbs don't sound all that appetizing. Do as Maria Kaimakis, of Cypriana, does. "I don't try to describe it any more. I give them a free taste, because the taste says everything."

     Cypriana, serving Greek and Middle Eastern food on Baltimore Street in the heart of downtown is the sit-down version of a street cart Kaimakis and her husband ,Vassos Yiannouris, started 8 years ago.

     Yiannouris, a native of Cyprus, would set up his grill on the sidewalk of their Patterson Park home, whatever the weather, when he had a craving for the grilled kebobs and foods popular in his native land. People passing by would often think he was selling the food, and it gave him the idea of operating a food cart offering Greek food.

     He purchased a $15,000 stainless steel cart, obtained all the permits and went into business at Light and Water Street. Several businesses in the area complained about the cart and wanted him moved. It was a blessing in disguise, the city forced him to a different location, at Light and Redwood, where there was a lot more traffic.The business took off.

     In addition to falafel, Cypriana's features grilled chicken, souvlaki (marinated beef tenderloin) pitas and Gyro (ground lamb mixed with herbs and spices, baked and thinly sliced) pitas. The pitas are wrapped around the filling and are so overstuffed that Kaimakis offers instructions on how to eat them to inexperienced customers. "Don't unwrap it, peel the paper down as you eat," is her advice.

     Kaimakis had never made falafel until her husband described it to to her. She spent 6 months experimenting until she came up with the taste she wanted. Making falafel is a time consuming process: the dried chickpeas arrive in large burlap bags, have to picked over to discard any smal debris and then soaked overnight before they get mixed with her special blend of herbs and spices, and shaped into balls before being fried.

     Cypriana is popular for lunch because most of the food is low in fat, and filling but "is not so heavy on the stomach that you need a nap," said Kaimakis.

     Kaimakis' day starts at 5:30 in the morning, when she begins to prepare the day's menu. Her special (and secret) tarragon sauce for the grilled chicken takes 24 hours to make, the tahini (sesame seed paste and lemon) dressing is made every day. "There's never a day when I don't feel like coming to work. It makes me happy to feed people who want what I have."

     Cypriana has another location, The Pita Express at the food court in the American Building at Baltimore and South Street and plans are in the works for other locations.

105 East Baltimore Street
Baltimore, Md.
(410) 727-1226
Hours: Monday-Friday 10:30-3:30
Pitas and Salads: $3.90-6.95

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