Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Meat and Potatoes, Lebanese Style

Lebanese and Middle Eastern
3445 W. Dempster, Skokie
Yelp listing

What I ate: Beef Shawarma Sandwich, Garlic Potatoes, Baklava

In embarking on my Chicago Dining World Tour, I hope, and expect, to discover the differences in menus and meals across cultures.

But I'm also hoping to gain greater enlightenment about the similarities in how and what people of different backgrounds eat.

Located in Skokie on Dempster Street, east of Crawford and west of McCormick, Basha states on its menu that it serves, "Authentic Lebanese & Middle Eastern Food in its Original Taste."

The restaurant is just a few blocks east of Pita Inn, which presents itself as serving "Mediterranean cuisine." I have enjoyed eating at Pita Inn several times--it has been in Skokie since 1982 and has three other suburban locations--but do not know which country its cuisine most closely represents.

Though I certainly don't bring an expert perspective, in visiting Basha for lunch on Saturday--which was my second or third visit, but first in a good while--it seems that on the surface, its menu is pretty similar to Pita Inn's. Falafel, Hummos, Shawarma (Beef and Chicken), Baba Ghanouj and various Kabobs are mainstays at both places, though unlike Pita Inn, Basha does not seem to serve Lamb.

But while it's likely that at either place, you might order a beef, chicken or falafel sandwich on pita bread, I have found relatively substantive differences in how these are presented at the two places.

At Pita Inn, the sandwich ingredients are stuffed within a slit pita (unlike a gyros, which is put on top of a pita, which is then folded). Though the pita becomes plump, it basically looks round before you bite into it.

At Basha, where I have previously had a falafel sandwich and enjoyed a shawarma sandwich on my most recent visit, you are served a pita that--even when stuffed--is rolled up. Although my photo at right doesn't represent it well, since I unrolled the pita so as to show the shawarma beef, as served it looked like a tube in aluminum foil.

But it tasted good, as did the side order of garlic potatoes, though I suspect they were to blame for my meal taking considerably longer to be served than I would've thought.

On the Basha menu, Shawarma Beef is described as "Slices of fine beef marinated and broiled served with our special salad of vegetables, pickles, and basha sauce in a pita bread." Both the beef and chicken shawarma are cooked on spits, similar to the way gyros meat is prepared.

I ended my meal--just a quick $10 lunch--with a piece of baklava that was quite good. It wasn't as thick as baklava I've had elsewhere, but I really liked the consistency, as the layers didn't separate as I tried to cut through it.

Except for the length of food preparation time--which wasn't horrible, just longer than expected--Basha was quite pleasant. The service was friendly, the prices were cheap and the food was tasty.

It also was rather quiet, with only one other table occupied, unlike the chaos I typically encounter at Pita Inn. I'm not saying this is preferable for Basha's ownership, but in aiming to get a comfortable lunch on a Saturday afternoon, I appreciated it.

I'll continue to go to Pita Inn as well, but Basha again proved to be an agreeable alternative.

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