Sky Full of Bacon

So a few installments of my “restaurants that haven’t been talked about on LTHForum or all that much anywhere else” ago, I wrote about Al-Basha, a middle eastern restaurant in a south suburban strip mall where I found that a menu of familiar favorites was distinguished by unusually fresh and bright flavors, ranking among the best of such things as shawerma, falafel and baba ghanoush that I’ve had lately.

Today, in a change of pace, I present Al Bawadi Mediterranean Grill, a middle eastern restaurant in a south suburban strip mall where I found that a menu of familiar favorites was distinguished by unusually fresh and bright flavors, ranking among the best of such things as shawerma, falafel and baba ghanoush that I’ve had lately.

Actually, credit for finding this one goes to my wife.  Yes, I was the one who put us on 87th heading toward Harlem to look for middle eastern, but she was the one who spotted Al Bawadi’s sign and most critically, its promise of “Natural Fire Wood Grilled” meats, and fought her way through vicious traffic to land us in its parking lot.

Al Bawadi is located in a former fast food building, which they are in the process of expanding so that they can have a nonsmoking original building and a separate hookah room.  The building looked vaguely Alamo-like, but I couldn’t quite place it, so after our meal I asked our waiter if it had been a Mexican restaurant.  He clearly thought I was asking if the meal we had eaten was Mexican food, and, eyes bulging in disbelief and dismay, carefully explained to the astonishingly stupid gringo (who somehow knew baba ghanoush and falafel by name, but apparently believed them to be salsa and chips), that the restaurant was Jordanian-Palestinian.  Eventually I got out of him that the building had once been an Arby’s, but I’m not sure I ever convinced him that I hadn’t mistaken his place for Senor Sombrero’s.

It is, let me say, a vast improvement, not only because of the much more pasha-decadent decor (I assume the paisley curtains and pillows are not Arby’s originals) but because the food was simply first-rate throughout.  Again, it’s not that anything was anything all that unusual— fattoush salad, hummus and baba ghanoush, falafel, a mixed grill platter with shawerma and kebabs— but it was all really well executed, bright spices, fresh as could be, chicken kebab perfectly cooked and so on.  (There are some grilled fish dishes and the like that seem a little beyond the usual.)  The only item I hadn’t really seen before was a freebie on the plate of nosh set on our table as we arrived; along with the usual pickled vegetables and some toasted pita, we got a pile of smooshed eggplant mixed with tomato and garlic, lots of garlic.  (The precise degree of smooshing was, less than baba ghanoush, but more than a chopped eggplant dish like the Turkish imam biyaldi.)  It wasn’t pretty (it sort of looked like brains or something) but it was really good, and I think I just stopped tasting the garlic about 20 minutes ago.

So the Bridgeview area is a big 2 for 2 on middle eastern places selected by pure random chance.  It won’t be the last time I explore down there, even if I no longer have a traffic court issue that compels me to visit that part of the world.

Al Bawadi Grill
7216 W. 87th St.
Bridgeview, IL
(708) 599-1999

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Just as a very silly debate was raging on LTHForum about whether suburbanites ought to be a protected species, their eating habits saved from the indignity of being shot like fish in a barrel by snarky commenters such as myself, I happened to have reason to go to the suburb of Way The Heck South On The Dan Ryan and decided to take the slow way back along Harlem and Roberts Road, looking for actual food down there.

There’s a substantial middle eastern presence in that area, and in the past I’ve noted #2’s of a number of the Kedzie middle eastern places; and Steve’s Shish Kebab, formerly on 63rd near Midway, moved there a couple of years ago. But where there’s emigrants from the city, there are probably also brand new spots with no city cousins, and so I decided to hunt up one of those.

The one I found was Al-Basha, in Palos Heights, located in a strip mall and decorated with this jaunty fellow, who clearly comes from the same school of clip art as the Italian chef on your last pizza box.

Inside was not the most encouraging welcome, as the word “banquets” (usually a warning sign) might suggest.  The interior was sort of shabby posh, like a place your grandmother would go for brunch in Boca, and there were half a dozen parties scattered around the larger room, most of them smoking (it’s always surprising now to smell smoke inside a restaurant).  No one appeared to be in charge, and finally a large fellow lumbered out and provided service that seemed intent on defining the precise line between lackadaisacal and neglectful, though it did, at least, come with housemade pickles.

So my hopes for the food by this point were that it would be merely competent— after all, is it possible to screw up falafel and hummus?  I suppose so, but I hoped it would take more ingenuity than they really seemed likely to display.  Just be decent, don’t make me find a hamburger for my kids to keep them happy on the long drive home…

One bite made me ashamed of my snark-filled doubts.  Okay, maybe two or three bites, but that’s all.  This was all the standard stuff, but about as good as I’ve had it anywhere, including LTHForum fave raves like Salam or Steve’s.

Falafel were freshly-cooked, both beef shawerma and kifta kebab were moist and more flavorful than usual, and one dish seemed even innovative— a combination of hummus and foul, which merely meant a little bit of the latter bean dish was stirred into the hummus, but its earthy flavor added welcome complexity to the usual beige goo.  Atmosphere aside, Al-Basha makes me want to go back and keep digging further in this rich, but still fairly unexplored, area for middle eastern food.

Al Basha
7216 W. College Rd.
Palos Heights

(What’s the number in the title?  This is #8 in my quest to visit 50 restaurants that haven’t been talked about on LTHForum and are generally little known in the Chicago food community/press— though in this case, Steve Dolinsky beat me here, and I ended up mentioning it on LTHForum myself before posting.  To find more, click on “Restaurant Reviews” in the right-hand bar.)

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