Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Most Memorable Experience at Al Bawadi: Jessica Johnson

Jessica is a writer living in Logan Square. She loves dining out and trying new restaurants to experience the culinary creativity in Chicago. Jessica says she's so dedicated to good food that she would be willing to drive all the way to the East Coast for one of her favorite foods, lobster. You can always count on Jessica to be watching Check, Please! as she proclaims that food belongs to ordinary people since everyone can enjoy it!

The other day, a friend and I went to eat at Al Bawadi, a Mediterranean restaurant in Bridgeview, IL. The restaurant is located along a busy road, lined by an endless stretch of strip malls. Despite initial impressions, the suburb is unique; Bridgeview boasts a growing Muslim population, a large community mosque, and many Arab-run businesses. 

I heard about Al Bawadi from a cab driver. A few weeks ago, my flight landed in Chicago at an hour in which I would normally be deep in REM sleep. Yet, I woke up enough to engage in a friendly argument about the best hummus in Chicago (I consider myself somewhat of a hummus aficionado). I said Salam was the best; he said Al-Bawadi. He was persistent. Ever since that late night discussion, the idea of a superior hummus has remained in my mind like a glowing garbanzo bean third eye.

We arrived early, on the second to last day of Ramadan. The restaurant was quiet, with mostly open tables from which to choose. We sat at a table that was reserved for women too shy to eat in public, or for women forbidden to eat in public. When a woman in a burqa comes to eat, the staff drapes a tapestry over the table, so the women can eat in their own private, dim light.

We asked for liquor, which was probably a tacky faux pas at best, and totally offensive at worst. To our credit, the menu proudly served “cocktails.” I just assumed that they might carry stronger cocktails than those fit for an eleven year old. We ended up ordering a mixed fruit drink sans liquor, served with a pistachio sprinkle and fluff of whip cream.

Without really looking at the menu, I ordered hummus, baba ganoush, and a broiled tilapia with saffron rice. Immediately, we were given warm pita, a platter of eggplant/ pepper/ tomato spread, spicy pickled veggies, and fried pita strips in za'atar (za'atar is a spice mix made of oregano, marjoram, thyme, salt, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac), a sort of a Middle-Eastern amuse-bouche. Everything was fantastic; prickling the senses and salivary glands; preparing the tongue and belly for the next stage of the meal.

I was so excited when the hummus and baba ganoush arrived. The hummus had so much tahini, it was dry as the desert. A food imagined in and necessitated by the desert. The baba ganoush was mixed heavily with yogurt, tahini, and sprinkled with sumac. The baba ganoush was light, white, and slightly sour. Both were covered with a generous amount of olive oil, and were absolute, unparalleled perfection.

We had to ask our server to wrap our fish to go. She said, “But you have hardly eaten anything!” Unfortunately, there was room for nothing else. I was in a state of peak satisfaction from the two appetizers.

I will return to this faraway restaurant again and again. Al Bawadi has truly the best hummus in the Chicago-land area. 

Al Bawadi
7216 W 87th Street
Bridgeview, IL 60455

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