Wednesday, November 4, 2020

More Middle Eastern Food in the South Suburbs

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- More Chicagoland Middle Eastern Eats 

It's been too long since we took a look at the happenings out in the South Suburbs like Bridgeview and Palos. It's the spot to go for both Middle Eastern food and groceries in the Chicagoland area. All of the spots featured in this 2016 post I did are still up and running. But in the four years since there's been quite a few new openings. One of them is Kabul Kabob which I featured back in 2018. It's still really good and so are a handful of newish spots I have to share with you today. Although we're restricted to carry-out in Illinois right now most of these spots have outdoor seating if the weather is decent. If not I've always felt most Middle Eastern food is great for takeout. It doesn't suffer much.


Oozi Corner (Bridgeview)

Oozi Corner was one of those spots that attracted all food media people in Chicago's attention when it opened. It got features and mentions in a handful of publications including a segment on ABC7's 'The Hungry Hound' which I mention bc I got to visit Oozi Corner with Steve Dolinsky for a test run last year. While there we ran into a couple other people in Chicago food media which gives you an idea of it's popularity at the time. I haven't heard much about it since then and truth be told it's one of those spots that best to dine in at with a large group bc the menu is full of options. As I read in one of the articles featuring Oozi Corner they want to open a bunch of them in highly populated areas and bring in people for stuff like coffee and groceries and dinner celebrations and all that. They have a drive-thru too. But of note is they don't offer the entire menu via drive-thru. But I haven't been since covid. 

Middle Eastern Feast at Oozi Corner 

When I visited with Steve we got to try a ton of stuff (thanks abc7). They call themselves a Mediterranean restaurant bc the menu expands across more than one country. Hack the menu is broken down into a handful of sections including breakfast which within it has four different sections. Options like Spinach Pie from the oven or Foul Mudamas (fava bean stew). The choices are overwhelming. There's both cold and hot appetizers and there's an array of them pictured in the first of the quartet above. Also in that pic as well as the second one down is the wonderful puffy pita bread they give gratis to each table. It's free and maybe one of the best things on the menu. I've been twice and it was served hot both times. On that first visit we also tried an order of the hummus topped with beef shawarma which was really well done and a few other things including a chicken shawarma wrap with curly fries (frozen) that was just ok. I've had better elsewhere. The last pic down from the above was from the hot oven clay pot part of the menu. It's a hot and spicy lamb in a tomato and pepper curry sauce.  

Beef Shawarma 

The size of the menu caused us to forget to order any of the kebabs but the meal with Steve was good enough that I got back there a couple times pre-covid. Both trips in I got kebabs which come from their charcoal grill and are in my opinion the star of the show (with that bread). The mixed kebab is pictured below and if you're visiting solo it's probably the way to go. If with a group it's great too bc you can try the kufta, shish, and the chicken plus grilled veggies, rice and cous-cous. It's downright impressive how they have a Golden Nugget type menu of Middle Eastern food and most of it is good. 

Mixed Meat Platter at Oozi Corner 

Al-Rasheed Bakery (Bridgeview)

Nothing is truly hidden anymore but these falafel are about as close as it gets. You'll find this low key store pictured above off Harlem avenue in Bridgeview. A few online reviews mention the falafel which I tried one day and they're great. I really enjoyed this story on them quoted below from @abeernajjar_ on Instagram. I found this when checking into the Insta check-in's at Al Rasheed Bakery. 

"Story time: My falafel experience has always been this. Someone rushing through the door on a Saturday or Sunday morning, in one hand a classic corner-store plastic “Thank You” bag filled with fresh khubz (pita bread) and weekend breakfast items and in the other hand a brown paper bag of Othman’s freshly fried falafel. The falafel would be steaming and the oil would have slightly stained the bag by this time. Mom and Dad always stressed that we kept the top of the brown bag open so the falafel wouldn’t get soggy and lose its crispiness. The dozen would always be short 1-2 falafel because whoever made the trip got to award themselves with a snack on the way home. While the scent of the falafel fumigated our home, we’d rush to prep all the fixings-sliced tomato, fresh cucumber, pickles, shatta (fermented chili sauce), and tahini sauce. There wasn’t time to make the table spread pretty. We just patiently waited as our parents perfectly ripped each pita down the middle, as if it was perforated and prepared for our sandwich making party. If we weren’t old enough to do it ourself, Mom or Dad stuffed each half with 1-2 falafel, smashed and spread them evenly in the sandwich and decorated with all our desired toppings.

My parents bought their falafel from Othman at Al-Rasheed Bakery for almost the entire 40 years they’ve been in America. When we lived near 63rd & Kedzie, the bakery was a short walk away. It was tucked in between other staple shops on 63rd street that my parents shopped at for produce, meat, and fresh bread. When the bakery relocated to the suburb of Bridgeview, the drive was never a burden for Othman’s famous falafel. And if we made it too late in the morning and he was already out for the day, there wasn’t a breakfast that could heal the disappointment of missing out. His falafel wasn’t like any other-perfectly crisp and brown on the outside, fluffy and vibrant green on the inside. He was an artisan at his craft, a humble and kind soul, and the keeper of a very secret falafel recipe.
In recent times, we didn’t see Othman at his shop as often as we’d like. His health conditions kept him from being there. 

A few weeks ago, we got the call we were dreading-Othman had passed on and his funeral arrangements were set for the day. We headed to Bridgeview to attend his funeral prayer and gave our condolences to his family. We passed his shop on the way home and my parents reminisced on all the years they knew him and all their memories of their immigrant journeys as a community.

Yesterday, I came home to find some of Othman’s falafel in a brown paper bag on our countertop. I saw my niece whip up a quick falafel sandwich and thought about how many falafel I have ate in my life due to this man. How many meals did my family enjoy due to his hard work? Would my 2nd-gen American nieces and nephews even love falafel if they didn’t have it made by Othman? No Michelin stars, no NYT front page stories, but hands down the best falafel in Chicago (you can fight me on this). I never shared many words with Othman unless I had to buy falafel and even then it was just “a dozen of falafel please” in my shy Arabic. But this is the effect food has on us when it’s intertwined into so many parts of our experiences. This is what “April is for Arab Food” is about for me. Anyone that’s been lucky enough to have his falafel should be honored.
Inna Lillah wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon
To Him we belong and to Him we return

Best in the area that I've tried (me Titus), which probably means best in-show. 

Falafel at Al-Rasheed Bakery 

Baba Saj (Oak Lawn / Palos Hills)

Baba Saj is an awesome little Middle Eastern bakery out in Oak Lawn. They have a another location in Palos Hills. They bake a variety of Middle Eastern breads and we tried a trio of baked goods made from both fresh pita bread and Saj on one visit. You know what pita bread is but Saj is a soft and thin flatbread baked on a griddle. It can be served plain or filled with a number of ingredients like white Arabic cheese or even yellow cheese with beef bologna. Same goes for the pita bread which is baked fresh through the day. You can buy it to take home with dinner or enjoy it as a snack with the some of the same topping options as the saj. Pictured below is Zaatar with and without cheese on pita. Then Saj with Muhammara - a legitimately spicy Lebanese chile paste not all that common in the States.

Pita and Saj at Baba Saj 

Reef Kabob (Palos Hills)

Here's one of the newer spots to open. A place I was tipped off to by @localfamily who knows his way around these parts. I knew about it being the type that's always looking around each neighborhood and suburb to see what's new but his visit and subsequent post on Instagram got me to go visit a couple days later. When we arrived I realized it was the old location of Al Sufara which was one of the best restaurants out this way. It's closed but Reef Kabob could be a worthy replacement if my fist visit is any indication. I tried talking to the owner but he was busy with something else so I didn't get to ask where he was from but they're doing the Dearborn Meats style setup here in that you can order skewers (grilled over live charcoal) individually. They also have sandwiches of all the same skewers on offer as well as more interesting fillings like lamb spleen. I tried a mixed grill which came with filet mignon, shish kebab, chicken, and kufta kebab. Served with both grilled onions and tomato as well as a trio of dipping sauces and pickles and carrots. The pita was old and cold but I love me some charcoal grilled meats and these were a treat. I hope they can last longer than the previous tenant. 

Charcoal Grilled Meats at Reef Kebab 

McDash Arabic Ice Cream (Worth)

Last stop for this trip is a fun one. I first got introduced to Arabic ice cream out in the Dallas area and I wondered when Chicago would get a spot as soon as I tried it. My question was answered last winter. The signature dish at McDash is a pistachio Arabic ice cream. But that's not all they do over here. 

Dessert Display 

McDash is run a by a really nice lady who let us try the baklava on the house and it was fantastic. But the star of the show here takes a scoop of the aforementioned elastic like Arabic ice cream and rolls it in chopped pistachios until covered. It's served over a knafeh of your choice (cream or cheese). Knafeh being a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made thin noodle like pastry soaked in sweet, sugar based syrup, and typically layered with cheese or other ingredients depending on the region. The pistachio ice cream went with the knafeh like vanilla ice cream goes with apple pie. Awesome. 

Desserts at McDash Arabic Ice Cream 

See ya next time @chibbqking


Randall Kramer said...

Very nice illustration of a "cluster" of varying ethnic Middle Eastern places to try.
Similar though-
to trying "ALL" the Mexican Taqueria's, say- on Lawrence Avenue in uptown -or
all of the Polish Deli's along Milwaukee Avenue- it could take a team of dedicated
Food Anthropologists a month to gather in all the details.

I'd visited Baba Saj- earlier this summer-
on a tip- from a Jordanian (+Palestinian) Messenger driver-
and enjoyed it enough, that following a 2nd visit (The Harlem Ave location)
I chose to write a Post about it
on lthforum. (sorry that I bothered to!)
Let's just say- the Moderator and others wanted to snarkily
rip on the Employees Face Mask Protocol-
as opposed to being appreciative,
of my taking the time to "turn-them-on-to" a Jordanian based ethnic food
experience in an enclave that is home to so many
MiddleEastern families of varying Tribal origins.

Hope to hear more Posts from you and The Food Dude-
about this yummious- corner of Chicagoland.

PS- Try The Muhammarra Saj- it's really devine.

Michael said...

After we ran into you and Steve there—at least 50% of the customer base at lunch was food writers that day—Kessler and I went to the strip mall on the south side of 87th, opposite Al-Bawadi, and we talked to the owner of one of the shops there and he told us about soon having the stretchy Turkish ice cream. Oozi Corner's manager also said they were planning to have it at their planned downtown location. And I have since seen it at the Turkish place where Kabob House used to be—prepackaged.

What's interesting is that a few years ago I read that it was very hard to find outside of Turkey because there was a shortage of the orchid extract that produces the stretchiness. And now it's everywhere. So someone clearly embarked on a big cultivation campaign in order to make the export market possible. An untold story, so far as I know...

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