A guest post from Reader contributor David Hammond:
In a ten-mile area around Bridgeview, there are more than 70,000 folks of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian descent. To meet growing demand for homeland favorites, this suburb has spawned a range of restaurants, groceries, and bakeries catering to a Middle Eastern clientele. I and a few others recently motored down there to get our kebab on at Al Bawadi Grill.
Al Bawadi welcomes guests with small platters of simple, tongue-tingling morsels: tender and tart pickles, crisped pita chips dotted with oregano, and an eggplant-garlic mashup that’s good all alone or as a spicy sidekick to main courses.
Crunchy falafel spheres are fried to eggshell delicacy, their moist centers complemented by a creamy, standard-issue tahini and a mildly hot red sauce that we requested.
If hummus no longer moves you (and the version here is pretty much comparable to what you’ll find at many Middle Eastern restaurants), you might dig motawam (also called toum), a garlic-based paste you can smear on pita or use as a condiment with the grilled items, which are superb.
Meat and fish are flame-cooked over an impressive metal trough, just a little wider than the length of a kebab skewer, and the meat we had was grilled just about perfectly, with caramelized crustiness outside and plush pinkness inside. Owner/chef Kal Ismail uses lump charcoal (never briquettes) for a clean, woodsy finish.
Rice is prepared with precision, each grain distinct, in yellow saffron or a darker tomato-based version described as “spicy” (which it may be for Middle Eastern palates, but not so much for capsaicin-addicted Chicagoans).
Within the next 30 days, kitchen space will be expanded and another hundred seats will be in place for a radically enlarged dining area. Al Bawadi, which currently does about 40 percent of its business in takeout, will have the capacity to serve an even larger community, and Ismail is planning to expand the menu as well. One major advantage of having a burgeoning ethnic customer base is that restaurants gain the confidence to offer unique and uncommon Middle Eastern dishes to discerning patrons who appreciate lesser known deliciousness from the countries they left behind.
If you do make the trek to Bridgeview, you might as well also head a few doors west to Village Pita and Bakery for fresh and savory pastry pockets of feta, spinach, and oregano.
Al Bawadi Grill, 7216 W. 87th, Bridgeview, 708-599-1999