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Posts Tagged ‘chickpea’

My buddy Tony and his wife Sandra took Yuki and I to Salam for lunch this past Saturday. Tony’s been talking about how fantastic their hummus is for a long time as he’s an even bigger hummus snob than I am. He took me up there for lunch a while back only to find they were on vacation, so I never got to try it. Well, Saturday worked out. We went and we dined. I have to say, that hummus is not only the best I’ve had in Chicago, it’s right up there with the best I’ve ever had period! I lived in the Middle East for a year so I know a thing or two about hummus. For the life of me I have no idea how they get such a creamy texture. Fantastic! Funny enough, Yuki found online that their hummus voted the best in Chicago by WGN Sunday night.

At any rate, when we were there Saturday I had the shawerma and Yuki had the chicken kifta, both also fantastic, but neither of us tried the falafel. Craving that hummus and wanting to not only try their falafel but also their baba ganouj we decided that we ought to go back for Meatless Monday.

We were meeting a close friend for dinner up there and got there early, so we walked around a little bit. Albany Park is a great neighborhood full of culture that I need to explore more of. We walked into the Tannourine Bakery just to check things out. They hand bake all of their own goods, including their pita bread. After chitchatting with Mike, the head honcho there, we ended up buying some spinach pockets, cheese pockets, and thyme manakeesh. He and I hit it off so he not only gave me a discount, but he also threw in a box of free anise cookies. Everything is so delicious and you can tell they care about their goods. I will definately head back to Mike when I need some good pastries.

Back to Salam. We started off with baba ganouj, hummus, and lentil soup. Believe it or not what you see in the pic are the smalls! Huge portions, only order large if you’re feeding an army. One of the best lentil soups in Chicago and that baba just might qualify as the best in town as well.

The falafel is also outstanding. If not the best in town, definately in the conversation and definately one of the largest falafel sandwiches! Perfectly cooked fresh falafel, diced tomato and cucumber, and tahini…a classic.

Just look at how green and fresh the inside of that falafel is. I know the picture sucks, but trust me, that falafel was heaven in a fried chickpea.

I also ordered the spinach pie, but honestly, I was so stuffed from the huge falafel sandwhich that I didn’t even touch it. I’m going to eat it tonight. Judging by everything else I’m sure it’s one of the best spinach pies in Chitown.

We ordered the combo plate full of kifta and kabob on rice with a tomato and cucumber salad to go along with six more falafel balls. The idea being that we had a bunch of left over hummus and baba that we ought to just have leftovers for lunch today. Not only did we have leftovers for lunch, we still have enough for dinner tonight as well. For about $40 we both got 3 full, healthy and delicious meals. You can’t beat that.

Service is also pretty good. It’s a bare bones little restaurant, but very attentive. I’ll definately make this little joint a regular stop in my rotation. I just cannot say enough good things about Salam except for “Peace be with you”.

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chickpea

 

 

I didn’t eat too much for lunch yesterday so by the time 5:00pm rolled around my stomach was rumbling! My wife had plans for dinner with some coworkers so I was on my own for dinner. I work from home most of the time, devoid of human contact, so I felt like grabbing some dinner with a couple of friends. I called up my buddy Ed and his girlfriend Becky (I know, I wonder myself how he has been able to keep the same girl for 2 years! It truly boggles the mind.). They were down for joining me to the recently opened Chickpea at 2018 W. Chicago, a place I’ve wanted to check out since it opened.

 

You have to pay attention to addresses since there isn’t a noticeable sign for Chickpea. It’s located directly across the street from the Dominick’s on Chicago and Damen. When we walked in we immediately got the feel of a typical family run joint in the Middle East. I lived in Israel and Egypt for a year so I have a pretty good idea of what’s authentic and what’s not.

 

The décor was interesting with a large painted Coca-cola sign on part of the wall and Arabic movie posters filling the rest of the walls. Light fixtures were clearly of Arab design as were the table tops. I also love how they polished the copper ceilings, something which too many establishments choose to paint over and which I think is criminal.

 

Anyway, we were a little unsure of how service worked as there was a line of people at the counter to order as well as some people waiting for a table. We figured that the line was for carryout and decided to wait for a table. While we were waiting, the old guy who’s helping to run the place (Jerry’s father maybe?) took us to the pinball machine in the back and said, “Come, play while you wait, the price is right”. It’s free, so I guess the price is right. I felt a little awkward playing pinball right next to people gorging on falafel and hummus. Oh well, we played a couple of games before our table opened up.

 

We didn’t realize that there wasn’t full table service until after we sat down. I felt like an ass sitting down before ordering while a bunch of people who had already ordered were waiting to sit. Oh well, I am an ass, so I guess it’s ok.

 

I held down fort while Ed and Becky went up to order. Ed screwed up my order, no surprise, so Becky had to go back up to fix it. I tell ya, men would be lost without good women by our sides. Thanks for straightening that out Becky.

 

We started with the trio of dips which consists of a dish of hummus, one of baba ghanooj (I guess that how Palestinians spell it), and the koosa ma laban which is yogurt, zucchini and mint puree. I’ve never had koosa ma laban before, and to honest, it wasn’t my favorite of the three. It was good, really fresh and clean, it just wasn’t my preferred flavor. The hummus was outstanding, definitely some of the best the Chicagoland area has to offer. The baba ghanooj was really good as well. I think I prefer the baba at The Pita Inn, but this baba more closely resembles what you get in the Middle East. You can tell that it’s a family recipe and it had a really nice lemony zing to it.

 

For entrees Ed got the Kufta Mihshew, ground lamb and beef kebabs with peppers and rice. Becky got the Fasoolya, braised lamb with green beans and tomato with rice. I got the Laham ma Hummus, a plate with hummus smeared around the sides and minced beef sautéed with pine nuts in olive oil in the middle that you eat with pita. I have to say, WOW! Absolutely delicious food. The Kufta was grilled just right so that the meat stayed nice and juicy while the seasoning was spot on. The braised lamb just fell apart off the bone, extremely tender. My laham was awesome. Little morsels of beef I think seasoned with a little cumin, maybe a touch of sumac but I’m not completely sure.

 

I was so hungry that I ate way too fast and didn’t leave any room for dessert. Oh how I love a good baklava. I’ll have to try it next time.

 

The one thing we didn’t try that I definitely need to is the falafel. I’ve been on the eternal search for a really good falafel ever since my year in the Middle East. So far, I have yet to find one that’s even close. The Pita Inn is closest, but nothing else I’ve had is. I know a lot of you are going to say, “what about Sultans on North?” I went there once a few years ago to try their falafel. While I don’t remember exactly how good or bad it was, the fact that I haven’t been back tells me that it didn’t impress me too much. I seem to remember it being more like an American falafel sandwich as opposed to a real authentic one. It’s really tricky to get the texture just right as well as the flavors. The best ones I ate in Israel all came from outdoor stands where the guy making them probably hasn’t changed his oil in 20 years. The oil really makes a difference. I’ll definitely try Chickpea’s falafel on my next visit. I mean really, I should have tried it last night as their name implies. What kind of an idiot am I?

 

I was also a little disappointed that they don’t have schwarma. I’ll take a good schwarma over just about anything in the world and I would love to have a good one in my neighborhood. I guess I’ll have to keep waiting.

 

The Suqi’s are also some of the most genuinely nice and hospitable people running a restaurant that I’ve come across in a long time. They definitely come from the old world. Amni, the mother whose recipes we ate, is such a nice woman. She was constantly stopping over and telling us about her grandma’s recipes that she uses and how good the food is. I couldn’t argue one bit as I had a mouth full of delicious bits every time she stopped by. I think she has the hots for me too as she kept touching my shoulder and talking to me instead of Ed or Becky. Frankly, I can’t blame her….I’m a stud!

 

In all seriousness though, I found Chickpea to be a real asset for this neighborhood. With prices all below $12 it’s a great value for the weakening US Dollar. Portions are nice too as there was plenty of dip for us to split up and take home. It did leave me a little gassy, but hey, most things worth their while do. I have a very good feeling that I will become a regular devourer of their food.

 

 

Photo courtesy of www.stevenjohnsonphotography.com

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