A drive down Harlem Avenue through Bridgeview, Worth, Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge reveals dozens of hookah shops, bakeries and kebab palaces. NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky has talked about Al Bawadi on 87th Street in the past - but a pair of businesses, just a few blocks apart, offers a window into the delicious world of sweets and savories from several Middle Eastern cultures.
Two clear signs you know they’re not messing around at Fattoush, a sprawling Middle Eastern restaurant in a small Worth strip mall. One: the massive cones of hand-stacked shawarma. Two: grilling everything over hardwood charcoal.
“We have some cuisine, some dishes that are Palestinian, some that are Jordanian, Syrian, a little bit of everywhere we sell,” said Bilal Arhan, owner of Fattoush.
But bring the gang and get a mixed grill platter, which feeds a small army. Beginning with salads and spreads, including an excellent toum, or garlic spread, the platter is just stunning, with its basmati rice-filled base.
“We have the kofta, which is a mixture of ground beef and lamb, that marinated, same with the shish kebab and the chicken kebab. And it also comes with lamb chops on top, and comes with a good amount of appetizers – hummus, baba gannoush, pita bread,” he said.
Dessert is just a few blocks away, at the brand new Zmzm Sweets in Chicago Ridge. The chain has several locations in the Middle East, but this is the first branch in the U.S.
“Everybody complains we don’t have the real sweets in this area, so we took it on ourselves, we decided let’s bring something unique, something when people taste it, they remember back home,” said owner Sami Alnadi.
The baklava assortment is stunning, most embedded with pistachios, but not all. Plus ice cream, from Bekdash, a legendary Jordanian brand that serves it up with a bit of flair.
“They’ve been in business for 120 years…they hit it with a hammer, then they dump it in the pistachio,” said Alnadi.
And then there is kunefah. Made with either semolina flour or shredded phyllo, the giant wheels are made fresh by staff from the Middle East.
“They know the recipe from inside out. We put it on what is called aroosa, we spread it out. The main thing is the cheese, the cheese we bring it from Jordan,” he said.
Baked slowly on a turntable, then flipped over, revealing a browned, crunchy top, it’s finished with ladles of sugar syrup and a shower of pistachios. It’s warm, creamy, sweet and crunchy.
“And we doing it from scratch, from A to Z,” said Alnadi.
Here's where you can go:
10700 S. Harlem Ave., Worth
10511 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago Ridge