Roti Mediterranean Grill
It was my first day as a reporter and my assignment was to go to Roti Mediterranean Grill and interview people who will have had lunch there. What a joke, I said to myself, but it is a job. So I went. The first person who dashed out of the restaurant passed by and I stopped her. How was your meal? I asked, pressing the microphone near her. She proceeded to tell me that she just had a — insert expletive — in her mouth. I could not believe what she had said, as she ran away with this randy grin on her face. The next person was a burly business man whose hair was disshelveled and his coat was not buttoned symmetrically. How was your meal? I inquired of him. His response: Man, that was some good — insert expletive. At that point, I had started feeling that perhaps I was missing something. Then this couple came out of the restaurant and I stopped them. I understand that Roti is a fantastic restaurant, I began. How was your meal? The man began that he could not believe how — insert expletive — great his lunch was. The woman concurred that she was ready to — insert expletive — and may want to come back for more. At that point, I threw the microphone on the ground and went to see what the hubbub was all about. There had to be a reason for the expletives.
Well, actually, I am a far cry from being a reporter and there were no customers exiting the restaurant with twisted vocabularies. I am a data analyst with an over-active imagination and an insatiable appetite. A good friend had asked me if I was interested in sampling Roti Mediterranean Grill at 33 N. Dearborn in Chicago’s Loop. I had tasted some of Roti’s catered delights and had often wondered if there was a restaurant in the Chicago area where you could go, sit, and enjoy some Mediterranean eating. Imagine my happiness when my friend had told me that Roti had a restaurant not too far from where I work. So, we met up with another mutual friend and walked over to get some satisfaction on a plate.
This particular location was conveniently located such that the entire seating room was filled to capacity, with the exception of a few empty seats scattered throughout. Huh? Yes, this Roti is in the Loop and while people in the Loop may be stiff suits and skirts, they are also ravenous during lunchtime. At Roti you place your order after you walk in. This is not a chi-chi restaurant where a host greets you at the door, takes you to a seat, and leaves you in the wake of a thin smile and perhaps a hint of department store perfume or cologne. And because the lines are long, you had better know what you want or face knife-like stares from anxious and hungry customers waiting for you to suddenly become decisive. Watching the employees behind the counter scooping food onto your plate and passing it to the next station reminds me of an assembly line, so reminiscent of going to Chipotle and watching those employees handle business with my tacos. But at Roti, it is Mediterranean food after all is said and done, not Tex-Mex.
I had a plate that had me caught up in the rapture of food. Spicy chicken. Couscous. Rice. Tomato and cucumber salad. Hummus. Falafel. Let me not forget about my signature stupid smile. You always figure that whenever you have food that has been catered, you have pretty much eaten perhaps a station above what the restaurant really prepares for in-house dining. Uber-delicious catered food is always an enticement compared to what you might eat at the actual restaurant. The lunches catered from Roti that I had previously were always outstanding and I found that while the sit-down restaurant has a slight fast food feel to it, what I had today was several notches up from what I expected. The chicken was nowhere near the texture of a cardboard. The couscous had the texture of miniature corn kernels, not cornbread dressing. Oh, and I am the first to admit that I love cornbread dressing with some cranberry sauce. But I digress. The rice was not drab. I never had fresh tomato and cucumber salad at any fast food restaurant and liked it — until today. And the hummus, albeit not dressed in paprika and olive oil, went down well with the soft pita bread. To top it all off, the price was not so bad. There will not be cases of me going to Roti several times in one week, but I will become a frequent customer.
It is becoming rather apparent that Chicago is entertaining a rather large Mediterranean influence. This is a city that indulges the vegetarian palate without complaint, and Mediterranean eateries are fantastic in that respect. But even with some meat dishes on the bills of fare, it is clear that the taste of the Persian Gulf, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean has great appeal to the Windy City. Welcome, Roti, to Chicago’s Loop. Well, welcome to the Roti that is in the North Loop since there are locations in South Loop and in the West Loop. And if the manager heeded my advice when she came by the table to see if we liked what we were having, Logan Square will be one of the next possible locations. Anywhere along Milwaukee Avenue, preferably between Diversey Avenue and Logan Boulevard would be perfect. Wishful thinking and self-serving of me, yes. Then again, 33 N. Dearborn is not far from where I work. Hint, hint.