The Food Guy: Middle Eastern Flavors on Full Display at Orland Park Gem

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Many of Chicago’s early Palestinian and Jordanian immigrants settled around 63rd Street, but over the last half-century, they’ve continued moving outward to the suburbs, including to Orland Park, where an incredible restaurant is dishing up Middle Eastern flavors.

According to NBC 5’s Food Guy Steve Dolinsky, Middle Eastern food is blessed with a riot of colors and textures. Briny, crunchy pickles; earthy, smooth dips and spreads. Plus, mounds of parsley for taboule, mirroring the mounds of rice which serve as a base for pretty much everything.

The restaurant Zwar is one of the latest options along an ever-crowded lineup along 159th Street in Orland Park, where one family is attempting to recreate the flavors from their ancestors’ homeland.

“These recipes originated in the Middle East and Jordan and Palestine,” said owner Omar Rumman.

Freshly-made pita are designed to be dragged through colorful plates of baba ganoush, made from grilled eggplant, or creamy-smooth hummus, both garnished with sumac, parsley and olive oil.

Shawarma is also a given, considering the chefs are hand-stacking both the chicken and lamb spits daily, slicing them to-order, and popping them directly onto plates already laden with two flavors of basmati rice.

“We stack the meats up the day before we prepare and marinate it. Then we cut it in very thin slices,” said Rumman.

Kebabs are another highlight. Ranging from filet mignon to ground chicken kefta kebabs, they’re marinated then grilled directly over hot charcoals until properly blistered.

The dishes, again, use rice as a base, with a garnish of sumac-covered red onions and sliced tomatoes. On Fridays, they make Mansaf – a traditional dish throughout the Levant, but especially in Jordan, where it’s considered the national dish.

“The lamb is marinated with yogurt, then we cook it with yellow rice and nuts on top,” said Rumman.

Actually, slivered almonds, and traditionally, there’s a base layer of pita tucked away below the yogurt-soaked rice. A side car of yogurt is also typical.

As for the pita, Rumman and his family installed a special oven just so they could make it fresh every day.

“It’s really about the smell and the culture behind us. A lot of our competitors outsource their bread. So we wanted to beat our competitors and bake it here and then we open the windows for parties to let the customers see that their bread is coming out fresh,” he said.

The mansaf is only available on Fridays – that’s the lamb with the yogurt and the rice – and even if you don’t come on a Friday, bring some friends. You may need some help eating it all.

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