Domestic gourmands

Naveed Islam & Tasmia Rahman

NI: It’s a chilly day in the fall of 2007. You and a friend are walking back from Walgreens and decide to stop somewhere for a bite to eat. Chef Chen of Dong Po fame is still cooking at Confucius and won’t bring his fusion of Chinese and Japanese cuisine to West Richmond for another few months. Frank’s Pizza Palace isn’t open in the afternoon and you are not in the mood for Good Company.
TR: What are you doing?
NI: I’m painting a mental picture. Anyway, the bags your friend bought from Walgreens feel heavy and you have to carry them back to campus because you’re a gentleman. The wind starts to pick up.
TR: Get to the point.
NI: You turn the corner on South Locust and pass the empty store windows of a space for sale to Shishkabob, a small restaurant that serves authentic Mediterranean cuisine at affordable prices.
TR: Shishkabob’s food was worth the long trek or speedy bike ride down College Ave and if it ever got too cold outside you could always get it delivered to your dorm, provided they knew how to get there or you were proficient at giving directions.
NI: Now flash forward to 2010. You remember the warm service and great gyros at Shishkabob and decide to take your friends there. After a 20-minute walk down College Ave where you list off exotic items like the schwarma or baba ghannough to your friends and plan what you want to eat, you stand a few feet from one of your favorite little exotic delis in town struck with horror.
TR: Shishkabob is now called Chicago Grill.
NI: Spoilers much? I was going for a Charlton-Heston-on-his-knees-before-the-Statue-of-Liberty ending.
TR: Sorry. If you can get past the name change you’ll find that not much has changed within the walls of the Chicago Grill. The smell of meat roasting on the open schwarma grill and the friendly smiles from over the counter are still there to welcome you for a quiet lunch or dinner with friends. The menu still has a selection of great Mediterranean delicacies like gyros, falafel or hummus but also features Philly cheese steaks, cheeseburgers and chicken fingers.
NI: When you took away the middle-eastern woman singing in the flat screen mounted on the wall, Shishkabob’s décor was fairly generic. The plain walls, tiled floors and hardwood tabletops didn’t scream “exotic.” But with the obligatory Vienna Beef poster of the giant hot dog at the harbor and the neon Kronos sign flaring above the cashier like something straight out of Blade Runner, it’s hard to let your mind escape to some place foreign and unfamiliar with your taste buds.
TR: Blade Runner? That tiny thing? You’re taking this too personally.
NI: I just want that middle-eastern woman back.
TR: We decided to sample a little bit of both worlds by trying an old favorite and something new. I ordered the Buffalo chicken wings with French fries and a side of ranch dressing for dipping.
NI: I went with the schwarma wrap – a mix of lettuce, onions, pickles, tomatoes and pieces of grilled chicken wrapped in soft bread and served with a special chili sauce. I also ordered some baba ghannough for the two of us.
TR: The $4.99 chicken wing options serves six small pieces, dripping with a spicy hot sauce that gives new meaning to the phrase “finger-lickin’ good.” Shishkabob featured a halal meat option, a method of preparation similar to kosher that observes religious rules. Chicago Grill continues to serve halal chicken but not beef.
NI: The baba ghannough is a generous portion of grilled eggplant, mashed and dressed with olive oil. I tore off a piece of the pita bread and dipped it into the sauce. It’s guaranteed to whet your appetite for Mediterranean food while you wait for the main course. We were also given a red bag of barbecue-flavored Kruncher chips, because apparently they spell it with a “K” in Chi-town. My schwarma was cut down the middle but the two halves were still quite large. It was appropriately juicy and its delicious mix of grilled meat and vegetables was packed with a lot of flavor.
TR: We watered our lunch down with Coke from the fountain in white Styrofoam cups. They gave us a free refill when we realized that dipping Buffalo wings in chili sauce had set our stomachs on fire.
NI: The food here is still quite good and the infusion of a “Chicago-style” menu adds more options for the less adventurous lunch-goers who like their meals to feel more familiar. The prices are still reasonable and your wallet won’t bleed cash when it’s time to pay the bill.
TR: I would have given Shishkabob a thumbs-up for its great Mediterranean dishes and inexpensive menu and the same holds true for the new Chicago Grill. I enjoyed the chicken wings and am eager to try more of their local cuisine when I stop by next time.
NI: Agreed. If you and your friend are walking back to campus from Walgreens and need to stop for lunch or dinner, curl up next to the large poster of the Chicago skyline, order a gyro or two and watch a Packers game on the flat screen at Chicago Grill.