There are dozens of good lunch options near the Broadsheet office on Smith Street in Fitzroy. My reliable go-tos include $8.30 banh mis from N Lee, $11 za’atar wraps from Falafel Place and $10 gozlemes from Sonsa Market.
Less often, I spring for the comparatively pricey $14 chicken schnitzel wrap at Smith Street Alimentari (it’s also available at sister eatery Brunswick Street Alimentari). One of my colleagues – also a fan – compared this wrap to something you’d get at McDonalds. Not because it’s full of salt, sugar and preservatives, but because it’s freakishly perfect and tastes exactly the same every time.
It’s the ratios. Every ingredient has its place and holds it well: aioli, melted cheddar and crumbed, fried chicken strips deliver a triple punch of salty fats. They’re tempered by sliced tomato and the zappy acidity of lemon juice. Lebanese cucumber and cos add freshness, and black pepper imparts a gentle spicy hum. That’s it. It’s a simple package, but rarely is a whole this much greater than the sum of its parts.
These ingredients are wrapped in (what I consider) one of the worst breads of all time: pita. Give me naan, injera, roti, baguette, arepa, tortilla, mantou or sourdough any day. Anything but the papery, bland, easily torn pita. In this case, though, those downsides are flipped into upsides.
The bread’s fragility grants quick, uncomplicated access to its contents, and its neutrality keeps it from interfering with everything else that’s going on. The kitchen is also smart enough to roll the thing properly – as tightly as a new tent – before slipping it into the paper equivalent of shapewear. Peel away some paper and a section of the forearm-thick wrap is ready to be attacked. Repeat until finished.
I bought a copy of the Alimentari cookbook to recreate this magic at home, but failed miserably. The chicken was dry and boring. The tomato was watery and bitter. The ratios were all wrong. I’m convinced the Alimentari people have a secret they’re withholding from the rest of us.
Just 50 schnitties are available each day across both stores and they always sell out. If you arrive at 11.55am, you’ll be told to come back after midday when the kitchen has finished frying the chicken. By about 1pm, maybe 1.30pm, the wrap is usually sold out. This elusiveness only adds to its appeal, of course.
I always time my visit carefully. I’ve only left empty-handed once or twice. Goods secured, I have a 200-metre walk back to the office. I know full well I’m a sloppy eater with a habit of ruining white T-shirts, but I almost always steal a few bites before I make it back to the front door. That’s the kind of wrap this is.