Nia — Mediterranean, Tapas Style

Nia

Two years ago a friend surprised me by taking me to a restaurant that she had not heard me talk about. She had mentioned that it was in the West Loop. Chicago’s West Loop is one area that had a rapid growth spurt, resulting in high-priced condominiums, expensive townhouses, bars that fill up quickly, and some nice restaurants. We went to Nia at 803 W. Randolph Street for some Mediterranean food. Because the dining experience was very satisfying then, I made a note to myself to visit again after work so that I could sample some more offerings from the menu.

Being a short distance from where I work, I decided to brave the Chicago wind for the few blocks it took me to walk to Nia. With my New York City stride, I was there in no time, coat off, gloves put away, menu in hand, and had an appetite that I needed to deal with without delay. One thing I remembered about Nia was that the menu was mostly of small plates. Nevertheless, I figured I would do well to order a few items to put a smile on my face and not so much that I would find myself fighting sleep thereafter.

Nia, Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

 

With the evening being what I called a “school night,” I had cranberry juice instead of a spirit or a cocktail. For starters, I ordered a plate of hummus with pita. Given this was a “small plate,” they didn’t skimp on the servings. This came with roasted garlic, a red pepper coulis, and a dollop of horseradish cream. I mixed it all up and worked that pita on the plate until there was a smear of hummus left. I don’t think I need to tell you that I liked it “that” much.

My next course consisted of wild mushrooms with truffle oil. Truffles are all the rage, it seems, and anything accented with its oil is a dish sent from heaven — or hell if you are “that” wicked. I married this dish with a plate of jumbo garlic shrimp in a lemon butter sauce. Although the four shrimp looked manageable, by the time I had finished the mushrooms and the shrimp, I forced myself to slow down so not to deprive myself of dessert. I did, however, request some extra pita so that I could get the last remnants of truffle oil and the lemon butter sauce. It would have been a crime to let any of that go to waste.

My dessert course left me humming, evident from the neighbouring stares I received. The bread pudding came drizzled with a caramel sauce and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that I swear had saffron in it. If that was the case, then it was not ice cream from the frozen section at the local market. I completed my dessert option with a cup of coffee and cream. Now, I am not a coffee snob, but I know when a French press has been used. The coffee is simply perfect and this was the case with the cup of delight I had with the bread pudding.

For the duration that I sat at Nia, there was a constant flow of patrons coming in and I noticed that turnover was low. That was an indication that people come to enjoy themselves. It’s a great spot for a date. There is the mood lighting — or rather dim lighting. Even those who dine solo at the bar find themselves engaged in conversation with others. The volume gets loud as more customers show up, though. With this being my second visit, I was happy as I teetered from the restaurant. The first time was good. This time was better. I wonder if the third time will be a charm. Well, there is only one way to find out.

Nia Mediterranean on Urbanspoon

Papaspiros Agora, Trying the New

Papaspiros Greek Taverna

A few years ago when I was on assignment in West Suburbs, I had made Oak Park, Illinois, a stopping ground for dinner on Friday evenings. Traffic was always aggravating and driving a manual shift car never made matters any better. Oak Park has a nice selection of ethnic restaurants and one that I had not tried was Papaspiros Greek Taverna at 733 Lake Street. It was an outstanding dining experience and by the time I had decided to return for a repeat excursion, the restaurant had closed. Well, it has since reopened in a new location across the street at 728 Lake Street.

Cranberry Juice and Water

Cranberry Juice and Water

Hummus

Hummus

Sesame Seed Bread

Sesame Seed Bread

Saganaki

Saganaki

With it being a perfect Saturday afternoon, I had an outdoor seat and prepared myself to savour some Greek dishes. I started with hummus. These creamed chickpeas, served with slices of tomato and cucumber and accented with olive oil, were quite nice and delectable. There was no pita served along with the hummus, so I used the complimentary sesame seed bread instead. That was fine until I was running out. I had ordered saganaki and good saganaki can have a spreadable consistency. The saganaki was also tasty. And usually, saganaki is set aflame at the table and then doused with lemon juice. The saganaki simply came to the table already bubbling in the small skillet.

Shrimp Souvlaki

Shrimp Souvlaki

Slowly I am starting to work myself back into my pescatarian diet. Blogging has a tendency for me to have chicken every once in a while and an occasional slice of beef. However, having had an appetizing seafood entree at another Greek restaurant recently, I thought that it would be a good idea to sample some seafood options from Papaspiros. The shrimp souvlaki was a perfect choice. Plump shrimp marinated in herbs and skewered with onions and bell peppers, each bite was worthy of a want to return. The garden salad and rice pilaf that came covered in a red tomato sauce along with halved potatoes were quite a lip-smacking accompaniments.

Arni Kokkinisto

Arni Kokkinisto

During my visit to Papaspiros at its former location, the first entrée I indulged was arni kokkinist — tender braised lamb, flavoured with fresh herbs, spices, and white wine, and served with green beans in light tomato sauce. Being a pescatarian at the time, eating lamb was a stretch, but it was not going to cause immediate ruin. With lamb meat falling off the bone and exploding with great taste along with fantastically seasoned green beans, the arni kokkinist deserved an encore.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

For the second round, I had sea bass with rice pilaf and steamed mixed vegetables of potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage. I ordered the sea bass complete with bones and with the head intact and t I took my time savouring each bite. Well, I should put that in context. I took my time so that I was not swallowing the small bones in the fish. The rice pilaf and the mixed vegetables were perfect companions to the dish and my server smiles wider every time she passed by and saw me nodding my head in appreciation for the offerings that she had suggested.

Grecian Riganati Chicken

Grecian Riganati Chicken

After sitting for awhile, I was ready for a third entrée. I had Grecian riganati chicken. Oven roasted chicken marinated with olive oil, lemon sauce, and oregano, and served with rice pilaf was a perfect wrap-up entrée. The server had told me in advance that it would take half an hour for the preparation and it had come to the table in perfect timing. Each bite was succulent. The meat was moist and I kept working my knife and fork slowly until I could not finish all of it. The server was rather impressed with my feasting talents.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

I should have stopped, but what is a splendid meal without a proper dessert? I had coffee and galaktoboureko. Semolina-based custard flavoured with lemon in phyllo, drizzled, and sprinkled with cinnamon with honey was enough to fly me to the moon. I think the patrons who were sitting next to me wanted me to stop humming, for I was exhibiting too much bliss. If you have some awesome food sitting before you and you are enjoying it, there is nothing wrong with letting it be known accordingly.

In 2012, I had the complete package of satisfaction: great service, outstanding food, and reasonable price. On this recent visit, the service I received from my server was top. The rest of the staff had a distant disposition that was kind of rattling. The food has not suffered as a result of the move, and the price is still sweet to the wallet. If Papaspiros draws crowds on Friday and Saturday nights the way I recalled during the stint at the former location, it may be a good idea to go during the afternoon on weekends. Certainly if the weather is pleasant enough for outdoor seating, take advantage of the restaurant’s authentic Greek menu items. Just don’t scream, “Opa!” The staff may think you’re ready to start throwing dishes on the ground.

Papaspiros on Urbanspoon

Moroccan, Hairpin Arts Centre, Logan Square

Recently, while making some updates to Chicago Alphabet Soup, I crossed one of my earlier write-ups, one that I had done on a Moroccan restaurant named Andalous. It has since closed and not to sound gloomy in an exaggerated fashion, there was a pang of disappointment in the discovery. Andalous was the only Moroccan restaurant that I had found in Chicago — and I am sure there are many more since the first outing to the restaurant — but the food was outstanding and considering the owner took time out to explain a lot dishes to my friend and me, I was sold on the restaurant being a top recommendation to those near and who would visit from afar. I had visited Rabat, Marrakech, and Agadir, so I had a point of reference for authenticity for the dishes. Andalous did not disappoint on the first visit, but it’s closing was a shock.

Black and Green Olives

Black and Green Olives

So after continuing to refine posts on Chicago Alphabet Soup and reminiscing about Andalous, there arrived an email invitation in my inbox. It was for a dinner at the Hairpin Arts Centre at 2800 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Having lived in Logan Square since late 1995, I was not aware of any art centres in the area. Then again, work had required a lot of travel, which kept me jetting across the skies, across the oceans, and to destinations fun and exciting. Even when in Chicago, I was constantly in motion meeting with friends, dining at various restaurants, and relaxing so that I was not living my life in one day. Other than my condo and a few watering holes, I never paid much attention to any other locations in the neighbourhood. I figured the invitation would give me the opportunity to see the arts centre and indulge one of my favourite engagements — eating.

Hummus

Hummus

This was indeed a traditional affair. Christopher Turner, a butcher at The Butcher & Larder at 1026 N Milwaukee Avenue, was the chef. In true Moroccan form, we had to remove our shoes. The invitation had been extended to a fair amount of individuals, so there was a long table that we all sat around on pillows on the floor. I thought to myself that this was going to be a good evening. For starters, there were black and green olives that clearly did not come from a jar. There was also homemade hummus, quite noticeable with a bit of grit to the texture, a sure indication that it was not procured pre-made. With khobz, or Moroccan flatbread, the hummus was an appetizing highlight.

Khobz

Khobz

Because the lighting was relatively dim and we had to pass dishes in communal fashion, there were a few dishes that I did not get to capture any visual impressions of. There were carrots that had been prepared with spices and everyone devoured them to completion. There was also what is quickly becoming a favourite vegetable of mine, as well as the source for my red velvet cakes turning out properly red and moist — beets. Many times I have joked about how my grandmother’s spirit is rolling her eyes and declaring, “Now that boy decides that he loves beets.” I had been engaged in conversation with the individuals seated near me, so I had missed the explanation of how the carrots and beets were prepared. I will simply say that rabbit food prepared Moroccan style is not a bad thing.

Lamp Presentation Lamp Presentation Lamp Presentation

The first meat dish to come to the table was a beef tangine. I have been quite good with keeping seafood as the only meat in my diet, with a few occasions of falling off the wagon and sampling chicken or beef. With my decision to become a pescatarian being a personal decision, not religious or because of a detriment to my health or fad, I opted for a scoop of the beef tangine with baked apples. One, I am glad the beef was not tough. I used the kobhz to pick up the meat and noticed how tender it was to the touch. It was succulent to the bite. Second, the seasoning of cloves and cinnamon made it that more tasty and the gravy added a richness that I must admit captured the beef tangine I had in Morocco many years ago. The apples and raisins in the dish allowed for a natural sweetness to the gravy to lessen any acidity in the recipe. The table that initially was a burst of conversation was accented with quiet.

Harissa

Harissa

Now, there was not going to be meat only, so there was fennel served with the beef tangine. Whenever I have had fennel, it has been in salads and such that any flavouring it could offer would be faint. I do not like licorice, Sam I Am, I do not like it. However, fennel served without anything else being in the way of flavour has a distant licorice highlight to it. I love fennel. How can this be? It’s as bad as me hating peanuts while having an addiction to peanut butter cookies at the same time. Yes, I am an enigma, one who appreciates a plate of smile-inducing fennel.

Beef Tangine

Beef Tangine

Once the course of beef tangine and fennel was cleared, we had an intermiso of pomegranate juice with rose-water and mint. Aside from the rose-water being added, the drink reminded me of hibiscus tea or kakade that I loved during my trips to Alexandria, Egypt. Rose water seems to be a common addition to some beverages and desserts in the Mediterranean, so I can only imagine there being an influence in Moroccan recipes. As soon as I find some market in the Chicago metropolitan area that sells rose-water, I will prepare my own concoctions of liquid happiness. The second intermiso was a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice with rose blossom water, served in a glass with cinnamon and sugar around the rim. If this isn’t a summer drink, I cannot tell you what is. I am adding rose blossom water to my list of ingredients for my summer beverages.

Merguez and  Couscous

Merguez and Couscous

We waited for well over fifteen minutes before the next course came to the table. This allowed for bellies to settle without being inundated with more tasty food immediately. Conversation was lively, new names were introduced that I won’t recall but whose faces I will remember, and anticipation was full in the air. Then came merguez and couscous. I had given in with the previous course and indulged the beef, so I forewent the merguez. Those who were seated near me raved about how they loved the chicken and lamb sausage. It definitely sounded like a winner and their facial expressions indicated so in the affirmative. I did enjoy the couscous, which had a citrus flavouring to it. What I loved most about the couscous was that it wasn’t of the consistency of mushy rice or sticky grits. I was reminded of cornbread dressing without the soupiness of it sitting in broth. Had I partaken of some merguez, I bet the dish would have been several notches past the 10 that I had already given it.

Mint Tea and Dessert

Mint Tea and Dessert

After the finale of merguez and couscous, there were desserts and traditional mint tea. The chef for the evening was honest enough to inform us all that the desserts were catered courtesy a bakery named M Desserts. Anyone who has had any desserts from the Middle East, you know that there is a high level of intricacy to the design and baking process. You cannot whip up some batter, put it on baking sheets, bake for some length of time at some set temperature, and serve as if you were some master baker. There is a science to desserts from the North African/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean part of the world. I shall have to find M Bakery. Nevertheless, there was an array of pastries, and cookies, all sweet and full of nuts the way they are prepared and served in Morocco. And we could not have any of those desserts without some mint tea served traditionally in a glass, from which you have to use the tips of your fingers to hold the glass by the rim and sip.

Relaxation

Most of the guests were personal friends of the guest chef. They described him as being great as a butcher. Although I have never been to the shop where he works, I would venture to say that his chef talents probably put his chop-chop skills to shame. It is unfair for me to say that what I had transported me back to my visits to Morocco, but I will say that the food would be worthy of return visits to any restaurant where he was the master chef. I hope that his volunteer chef work for the evening will help towards raising awareness about the Hairpin Arts Centre. Considering I have lived in Logan Square for years and have passed the building where the arts centre resides, the absence of a moniker or any advertisements have resulted in me constantly passing by a significant part of the Logan Square landscape. I would hope to see more coming out of and going into the Hairpin Arts Centre, and I would gladly support Christopher Turner if he were to take his talents up a notch along the lines of culinary arts.

Armenian, Siunik and Oberweis — Oh, Be Wise

Note: Suinik Armenian Grill has moved to 1707 Chestnut Avenue in Glenview, Illinois.

Last year there were some weekends that had such great weather that I took advantage of riding my bicycle through several neighbourhoods without succumbing to dehydration. The fun thing with the bike rides was going down side streets and happening upon various little hidden coves of cafés and boutiques. When driving and when riding public transit, you see everything from the main road. Hidden gems down residential streets and around corners never pass the eyes such that you register their presence. I missed those discoveries. And earlier this year, I found Skokie, Illinois, to have several points of interest that no one brings to life in discussion. One spot that jumped out at me when I had gone to Skokie for Afghani and then again for Jamaican food was a certain Armenian grill.

Siunik

Siunik Armenian Grill has a bit of that Chipotle “thing” going. But the authenticity in the flavouring of the food will soon make you forget that Chipotle exists. At 4639 Oakton Street in Skokie, Siunik Armenian Grill serves up some “real” Armenian tastes. All the other Armenians who continuously poured in will co-sign on that observation. I had a chicken kebab plate. The spiced chicken looked as though it could have been dry but when you bit down into each piece and it exploded with juice, I gave up on judging books by their covers. And the couscous with mushrooms puts the generic couscous that Middle Eastern fast food eateries serve to shame. There must be a marinade to the mushrooms because it was not merely a case of biting into something with texture. It was all about sinking teeth into a recipe that had been prepared to tradition. The two pedestrian items that I had were cabbage salad and bread. The cabbage salad reminded me of slaw without the mayonnaise – and I was happy all the same without it. But then there was the hummus. Again, this was not a menu item that was simply added to the bill of fare because everyone is serving hummus. Even after having skimmed the paprika and cilantro off the top with a scoop of the bread, there was so much bloom in the recipe that I ordered some to go.

Armenian Chicken Plate

Armenian Chicken Plate

When I was all done, I headed North into Skokie in search of some ice cream. In the Chicago metropolitan area, ice cream parlours are generally taken over by teenagers and tweens who giggle and embed the word “like” between every other word they use in sentences. And that’s before, during, and after ordering their ice cream. Yet I still burn for some creamy treats on occasion and I endure the torture of giggling, indecisiveness, and excessive use of “like.” What should be nearby but an Oberweis creamery at 4811 Dempster Street. It had to have been divine because the ice cream parlour was absent of the giggle-like nightmare. I ordered a fudge sundae with cookies and cream and espresso cappuccino for my two scoops. I was so very, very, incredibly, magnificently, stupendously happy. I guess it goes without saying that I was also bordering on food comatose.

Double Scoop Sundae

Double Scoop Sundae

Much like sections of Chicago proper, immediate neighbouring suburbs also have a few locations that go unnoticed. It takes a casual drive or a long stroll through some areas to find these areas where tradition meets culinary delights. It very well could be that tourism is not the target import and so there is no advertisement to draw larger crowds to these gems. However, you do find those representative of the ethnicities present and that is always an indication that the restaurants reflect the “old country” proper. I have passed by several locations that flashed by my peripheral and have considered returning for longer gazes to see what would tempt the palate. Had I not done just that this past weekend, I never would have had some of the most delicious Armenian.

Siunik Armenian Grill on Urbanspoon Siunik Armenian Grill on Foodio54

I Come From Another World

HarvestBerwyn, Illinois, is surprisingly becoming a suburb for those who have no compunction about indulging tasty food. A former colleague who lives in Berwyn has introduced me to a few restaurants that have shown themselves worthy of repeat visits. There supposedly was a feature on television for a restaurant that is out of this world. Autre Monde, translated as “another world,” and at 6727 Roosevelt Road, was touted as a must-go-to eatery for those whose palates enjoy cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. My former colleague had gone to the restaurant and had spoken to how you cannot describe the taste — you simply had to experience it. Well, that was all I needed to hear to know that I wanted to be transported to a another world where people relished at aromas that tickled the noses and flavours that danced about the tongue like lords a leaping.

Autre Monde has a look and feel that is rather common among a lot of lounges in the immediate West Loop and Near North Side sections of Chicago. The lighting is dim, giving a muted orange glow. Everyone is glamorous, almost to the point where you wonder if it hurts to be so beautiful. The atmosphere is intimate. It is always recommended that you make reservations well in advance for the assurance of a seat and you arrive for the time that you have made the reservations, lest you relinquish your seat. The restaurant fills quickly. Of course, the service is outstanding and they will accommodate you if you visit without a reservation. But once you are there, be prepared for one of the best dining experiences of your life and a recognition that Chicago suburbs are, per the current urban lingo, on and popping.

Hummus and Fava Beans SpreadHaving the Christmas season upon us, my former colleague and I were in a festive mood. This was going to be a gathering before I departed to spend Christmas with my family and she to spend it with hers. With the restaurant filled, bearing others who came with co-workers and other friends dancing and doing things a notch short of embarrassing, we figured we would really get started with something from the drink menu. There is a drink called Harvest that is nothing short of autumn in a glass. I never would have imagined that whiskey and cider would be a great combination. Add a dash of cinnamon and you have a winning drink. Because we had saved our appetites for Autre Monde, we were careful not to imbibe the Harvest as though we had been crawling across the desert and were ridiculously thirsty. We tempered ourselves and placed our orders to cater to our degustation wants.

The first course we opted to sample was a plate of hummus and fava beans. There is no reason to ever go to a Mediterranean restaurant and not order any hummus. It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and with some pita bread, you can fall in love with those creamed chickpeas, olive oil, and spices. Now, add fava beans to the mix and this was nothing short of Silence of the Gino, Mediterranean style. I have had fava beans with fish, chicken, pork, and in a complete vegetarian meal. I have even had them with a Chianti. Having it prepared as a spread was a new experience and one that I enjoyed more than I can put into words. It may be that it was something completely different to my palate. It may be that it was really that delicious. We’re not talking a dish that was heavy-handed with spices enough to be the glaring complete antithesis of a boring plate. It was a perfect start.

Mussels au Sete
Then we moved on to Mussels au Sete. I wanted muscles. I got some now. My arms are noticeably larger than they were several months ago. But I wanted mussels that tasted award winning in a savoury gravy. Lucky for me, I was already at Autre Monde and was happily obliged. It had to be the light gravy that made the mussels have an unforgettable taste. Heavy enough on the garlic but not enough to send a vampire running back to his coffin, my former colleague and I dipped the complementary toast in the sauce and devoured the delicate mussels with a tempered hunger. After all, we had more in mind to sample.

Moroccan Chicken WingsThe third menu item was one we saw going to other tables. The patrons were baring their teeth, frowning, and gnashing away with an animal intensity that made Sally in “When Harry Met Sally” come across rather tame in her mockery during the famous restaurant scene. Moroccan chicken wings landed on our plates and we topped them with cucumber yoghurt and a light pepper syrup. The combination of cool and hot was not something that my dining companion and I were going for but mixing the cucumber yoghurt and the pepper syrup really made the chicken wings scream. Even without adding the yoghurt and syrup, the wings had a flavour that held its own. The crust on the wings was delicate, nothing like the harsh crunch that you get on most fried chicken and definitely not a case of the Kentucky Fried Chicken sort, where the batter is almost feathery. We were contemplating ordering more of the wings, but that would have taken away from the degustation sampling we had planned. We were happy to have bared our teeth, frowned, and gnashed away on the wings that we had the way everyone else had.

Fontina and Wild Mushroom FlatbreadWe then graduated to fontina and wild mushroom flatbread. The whole concept of flatbread is all the rage in Chicago and has been for years. There are restaurants that make sandwiches with flatbread. Some pizzerias use flatbread as crust. There are even a few speciality cafés that serve it with dips and spreads. But when it is done right, it is an absolute showcase of talent. Looking at the fontina and wild mushroom flatbread, one would think it was pedestrian fare. It is anything but plain. The recipe apparently was well-balanced enough that the herbs and spices were present without overpowering the fontina cheese and the mushrooms. And let me not miss expressing the fact that you could taste the mushrooms, not simply chew them and know that they were on the flatbread.

Because the fontina and mushroom flatbread was so amazing, we wanted one more flatbread. An option was the spicy duck sausage flatbread. We immediately flagged this flatbread as a mandatory reason for a future repeat visit. Sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned duck sausage on flavourful cheese. It also found its way between our fingers, rising up from the plate, up towards our mouths where it entered and our teeth went to work. Smiles. Smiles as though we were on Fantasy Island. But it was no fantasy. If I had to choose between Chicago style pizza, Brooklyn style pizza, and the spicy duck sausage flatbread, Autre Monde would be happy to know that their little belly happy menu item would win.

Spicy Duck Sausage FlatbreadFor the finishing touch, we had pot de crème. Many people seek a pot of gold. If I want happiness, I only need the chocolatety hazelnut flavour of pot de crème to paint my face with a smile. So delicious it was that we intentionally took almost half an hour to eat all of it. There was no reason for us to rush through such a perfect dessert. The hazelnut influence in the chocolate custard had the right ratio to let you know that there was the presence of hazelnut but not such that it competed with the chocolate. After all, there were shavings of hazelnut on top with the homemade whipped cream. There could not have been a more fitting sweet.

Pot de CremeAutre Monde is, to put it succinctly, out of this world. For Berwyn to be such a homey suburb, you would never think that a restaurant with high-end atmosphere and top billing cuisine would be there. A few years ago, Berwyn was primarily a walk-up café haven where you were guaranteed some authenticity in the food you ate. The addition of Autre Monde and a few other restaurants will eventually have Berwyn filled with foodies seeking their Holy Grails of dining experiences. The price is commensurate with the quality of the output. The first time I went to Autre Monde, I did not have my camera and wished that I did. There was no way I was leaving home the second time around sans my toy to capture the culinary impressions. Actually, I wished that I had a camcorder to record my thousand faces of happiness as I ate. While I was able to capture the menu items that my former colleague and I had, and a picture is worth a thousand words, you will find that there are a thousand ways to express bliss for something delicious from another world.

Autre Monde Cafe on Urbanspoon

Snacking on Saturday

Finally a Saturday that was not botched due to rain and thunderstorms. Granted it was piping hot outside, the last thing I wanted to do was turn on my stove for any unnecessary reason. So I decided that I would enjoy outdoors via a bike ride. And then a brilliant idea came to mind — Snacking on Saturday. It was off to some restaurant or a series of restaurants for some street food. A whole day of food discovery without being fancy in attire for a formal sit-down meal would work perfectly for my chronic appetite.

Plain Hummus

I rode to the subway station and carried my bicycle on the train with me for the first pass. I wanted to return to Oak Park, Illinois, for a quick breakfast. Instead of waffles, scrambled eggs, grits — which I would take being set on fire before eating, bacon, and all the traditional American fare, I arrived at Oak Park and biked to Jerusalem Cafe, located at 1010 Lake Street. I had been to Jerusalem Cafe for lunch and for dinner, so there was a comfort stepping outside of my breakfast comfort and going with something as zany — to most — as some hummus. Plain and served with pita, this was just the pick-me-up that I needed to get started for the day. Usually hummus is doctored up to the point where the spices can be rather overpowering rather than complementary. Hummus all by itself is a splendid kick to the taste buds. With it being hot, I opted to have iced tea prepared Mediterranean style — with a hint of cardamom. Satisfaction, I say.

Tandoori Chicken Sandwich

I biked back to the train and caught it back into Chicago proper. Back at my Logan Square stop, I biked north into the Irving Park neighbourhood. In keeping with something from the Mediterranean/North African part of the world, Zebda was my next destination. I had made the trek up to 4344 N. Elston Avenue several months ago and was satisfied thoroughly. I had even ordered delivery since because they never fail to prepare something that has my appetite screaming, Yes! Yes! Yes! Instead of having a large lunch, I ordered a tandoori chicken sandwich. Succulent chicken, salad, all topped with a mint yogurt sauce made for a tasty treat of delightfulness. I sat at one of the two tables and engaged the cafe staff and a few passing Algerians about other Algerian eateries in Chicago — and outside of Chicago for those who have familiars in other parts of the world.

Red Velvet Whoopee Pie

Nothing came to mind for my next stop, so I had a leisure bike ride with no destination in mind. With the heat bearing down on me, I did have a notion to get some water to hydrate myself. I stopped at a non-descriptive coffee house and had two bottles of water and a red velvet cake whoopee pie. Since red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes are all the rage, there was no way that I was going to pass up on sampling the dessert that needed to be snatched from the dessert case and handled with care. I savoured that little bit of love and sat for a nice spell reading a novel on my Kindle while letting the water settle so that it would not feel like my belly had the ocean sloshing around in it.

Samosa with Spicy Chutney

By the time I had finished at the coffee house it was still relatively early. On my way home, I passed down a street with some Caribbean men and women working an inviting grill. True to my Caribbean roots, I pulled up and asked what they had. One item that was a winner was doubles — a sandwich of flatbread with curried chickpeas and topped with a tamarind chutney. As soon as the woman had said that they had doubles, I knew they were from Trinidad and Tobago. Common sense should have told me to go straight home without entertaining any more food, but they had doubles and I was doubled over on my bicycle for the rest of the ride home. I was a happy man, but filled to capacity.

Coconut Shrimp  with Spicy Plum Sauce

I spent a few hours at home relaxing as the temperatures seemed to drop slightly enough to eliminate the feeling of baking. Dinner was on my mind, but I wanted to keep in line with having street food versus the ubiquitous table meal. Two spots came to mind. One was a certain hole-in-the-wall called Rajun cajun. I had been there numerous times. 1459 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park was a regular spot for me and the first leg of my eating pleasure this evening. Instead of biking, I rode the subway into the city and then transferred to the express bus to go into Hyde Park. At Rajun Cajun I ordered a half dozen samosas with spicy chutney. There was no need for me to stuff myself senselessly, so I had one samosa while catching up with the owner, his wife, and his brother in-law.

Thai Custard

Not to borrow trouble, I settled on one final restaurant for snacks after I left Rajun Cajun. Thai 55 at 1607 E. 57th Street was it. One of my great friends is the owner and we had not had the opportunity, as of late, to catch up and discuss culture, politics, religion, and path forwards. Considering he is the only person I can discuss the first three topics without arguments or debates, it was a must that I pay him a visit. Much to my surprise, his brother and his sister in-law were there instead, having come from Barberry Thai on the North Side. I had coconut shrimp with a spicy plum sauce and Thai custard. Love. Love. Love. I shall have to catch up with my friend before he returns to Thailand permanently. Then again, I am one to board a plane to any international destination with appeal.

Overall, my little excursion in having snack food only was rather fun and exciting. I need to figure out where I should set the threshold to tell myself stop because having a food addiction seems to override common sense and then I experience misery from over-indulgence. The pain is only temporary and I relish in it after all is said and done. And because I had so much enjoyment on this pass, I shall have to plan another Saturday of snacking. But I think I shall have to take the bus to a neighbourhood and go about a scavenger hunt for edible street food. I simply cannot entertain Biking-for-Bites every Saturday. Haha.

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