I need a new Middle Eastern place
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Last night we had dinner at Salaam, mostly our favorite middle-eastern place. I'm especially keen on their house made schwarma's, the pink pickled turnips served gratis and their fine dice of jalepeno and garlic that serves as the perfect foil to the meats. Yet, last night may have been the last straw.
I always go into Salaam expecting poor treatment and clouds of cigarette smoke. Yesterday, a smoker actually voluntarily moved himself, feeling guilty about being so close to a kid, but the service was worse than ever. Four forks for five people. Lack of knives to cut the meats. Hell, it was problem just to get some plates. Every thing we needed, the fifth water glass, the re-filled glasses, the hot sauce, the check, only came after we asked, and everything came with extreme skeptisism from our server. No schwarma and hot sauce is really worth that.
So where? Here's a laundry list based on some other places of my ideal middle-eastern resturant:
- a wood burning oven like this place in Washingon DC that turned out an amazing chicken with garlic sauce (also fresh pita bread).
- A big platter of fresh vegetables dropped off at your table like the places along Bayswater Road in London.
- The olives and turnips like Salaam
- The multiple hot sauces and condiments like Falafal King in Westwood, (Los Angeles)
- Any place that fries their falfal too order--say Pita Plus in the suburbs
- The huge bowls of pickles on the table and great fresh fries from another Pita Plus, this one in Aventura, Florida
- All the salads, spreads, sauces, and veggies that will fit in the pita like any falafal stand in Israel
- Schwarma not gyros
Anything else missing from the ideal Middle-Eastern place, and more importaningly where can I fint it?
Your goal and your experience with Middle Eastern food exceed mine, but maybe we'll both find what we're looking for on S. Harlem Ave. I just want to find Middle Eastern food in or near Joliet. Rene G last year linked me to Ray Hanania's roundup of Middle Eastern restaurants which includes places far south on Harlem, and the Syrian countermen at the local King Fish & Wings carryout and the Palestinian students I tutor have also recommended that area.
So far I've visited Baladi and Little Egypt. I posted a few weeks ago about Baladi. It's small, spare, had tables full of Middle Eastern men smoking, and served me a great chicken shwarma sandwich. Little Egypt looks like a nightclub waiting to happen: a large room, tablecloths, mirrors, statues of pharoahs, a glitzy bar, and a bandstand full of equipment. At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday I was the only customer.
I expected the appetizer combo to be served all on one plate, a la Greektown, but instead received five separate small plates. The baba gannouj was good, gritty and smoky, but best was the olive oil atop it and the hummous, the sweetest and fruitiest olive oil I've ever tasted. I wouldn't order the lentil soup again. If I return I'll try the Rolled Eggplant ("Eggplant steak stuffed with spinach and cheese then baked over rice"), the fish (salmon, cat, red snapper, shrimp), and the Cairo Dish ("Cooked, smashed zucchini in yogurt, garlic, and Egyptian seasoning").
As I drove north on Harlem to FitzGerald's I spotted these other Middle Eastern restaurants: Al-Ameer, W side of Harlem just south of 111th St., and Ya Hala Cafe, E side of Harlem just south of 100th St. (On the W side of Harlem just south of 107th is a big place all lit up, Dionysius Greek Taverna.)
7209 W. 84th St.
7216 W. College Drive (a/ka/a 119th St., I think)
I haven't had such unpleasant experiences at Salaam, but I went down with some Palestinian friends to Little Egypt in Palos Heights and thought it was pretty good, although some menu items were better than others. They also have good (late) music at L.E. even if their belly dancer is not the greatest. Still, I was also at Salaam the other day, and it was really really good and cheap...