As rents rise in Ravenswood and Lincoln Square, a few Albany Park entrepreneurs are hoping the gentrification will spread their way. Cousins Arben Pema and Leke Brisku have opened their bar and restaurant, BRISKU’S BISTRO, a block south of Arun’s on Kedzie. The two rooms are enormous: one’s got just a long bar, a jukebox, and some dartboards; the other is full of tables and has a stage for live music. Pema and Brisku are first-time owners, and they’ve installed a former Cousin’s cook to create a Middle Eastern menu that’s not your typical bar fare. There are over a dozen appetizers, ranging from hummus, carrot puree, and tzatziki–all great for dipping into with the warm pita that’s served–to Balkan qevapa, seasoned sausages, and Mediterranean qofte, a beef or chicken meatball stuffed with feta. There are also a few mainstream offerings, like grilled chicken tenders and fried calamari. The shepherd salad is a wonderful choice, with roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and onions tossed with parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice. A dozen entrees, most under $12, are served in ample portions with several accompaniments: the lamb shank, although slightly tough, came in a tasty tomato sauce with a mound of rice and a side of vegetables, while a generous, gently cooked portion of Adriatic salmon arrived on a bed of spinach sauteed with garlic. A New Orleans-style jazz band plays every Wednesday, and satellite-football Sundays start soon. Brisku’s Bistro is at 4100 N. Kedzie, 773-279-9141.
The Japanese-Korean restaurant MARADO is easy to miss in the sea of neon that lines this stretch of West Lawrence, already home to several worthy Korean eateries. Inside the new place is simple and clean–tables and chairs are wood, walls are painted in two tones of green–and the food follows suit. The Japanese dishes are straightforward: tako-su is chilled octopus with seaweed and cucumbers in a vinegar sauce, chicken and salmon are done teriyaki style, and shrimp, vegetables, and squid are dipped in batter and served as tempura. There’s also edamame (boiled green soybeans) and a variety of udon, served with a choice of mixed seafood, mushrooms, fish cakes, or tempura. The mostly Korean and predominantly male clientele seems to stick to the sashimi assortments, which range from $40 all the way to $150, with the more expensive versions presented on abundantly filled two-foot-long wooden serving boats. The fish is precisely sliced, although the selection is fairly ordinary: yellowtail, tuna, salmon, shrimp, unagi (freshwater eel), and a few daily specials on occasion. Korean options include several soups chock-full of ingredients; the hae mool jun gol, for example, combines shrimp, blue crab, whitefish, and vegetables in an addictive chili-laden broth. Other Korean standards include bulgogi (marinated char-grilled beef strips), kalbi (beef ribs), and a bi bim bop (rice bowl) with seafood, all of which come with an assortment of panchan (small fish and vegetable side dishes). There’s a language barrier, but easy-to-follow English menu descriptions make up for it, and aside from the extravagant fish boats prices are reasonable. It’s BYO. Beware: at certain times of day a TV blares Korean soap operas from the small sushi bar. Marado is at 3714 W. Lawrence, 773-279-9119.
The counter-service-only FAT WILLY’S RIB SHACK, located across from the General Cinema on Western, is tiny, holding just a few booths covered in faux cowhide. Luckily, there are lots of seats on the sidewalk patio. The goodies–baby back ribs, rib tips, chicken, and a variety of sandwiches (brisket, pulled pork, burgers)–come from either the small grill behind the counter or the large smoker in back, where the tender barbecue simmers for hours after marinating overnight. Servings are piled high on the plate, and accompaniments including thick-cut steak fries, creamy coleslaw, and baked beans help balance the thick and somewhat sweet sauce. For those who don’t eat BBQ there’s also homemade chili topped with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and smoked jalapeno salsa; fresh soups of the day; mac ‘n’ cheese made with penne, Gruyere, fontina, Parmesan, and cheddar; and a tossed green salad freshened with diced apples, maple pecans, red onions, blue cheese, and a balsamic-honey dressing. Desserts might include a fresh fruit pie of the day, New Orleans chocolate pecan pie, or massive chocolate chip cookies. It’s a simple menu, but everything’s made from scratch and affordable–even a whole slab of ribs is under $15. Fat Willy’s Rib Shack is at 2416 W. Schubert, 773-782-1800.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rupert Whiteley.