Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Big-Plated Introduction to Bulgarian Food in Des Plaines

1141 Lee, Des Plaines
This is exactly the way my Chicago Dining World Tour is supposed to work.

My friend Ken has accompanied me on several ethnic eating excursions, and has read about many more on this blog.

In turn, he has taken his friend Ed to one of the places we tried—Staropolska for Polish food, as both of them are—and has looped Ed into both my blog recaps and the gastro-ethnic expedition in general.

After earlier this year recommending The Magic Jug (Ukrainian), which Ken and I visited, Ed more recently passed along word—based on a suggestion from a cigarette store clerk—of a Bulgarian restaurant in Des Plaines called Mehanata.

And on Labor Day, Ken, I and Ed went there.

With plenty of leftovers for each of us to take home, it was one of the largest feasts yet of my local international dining initiative, and proved to be as savory as it was sumptuous.

Ed conveyed that the Chicago area has the largest Bulgarian population outside of Bulgaria (I believe similar statements are true about the local Polish and Irish communities), so he surmised that there are a number of Bulgarian restaurants in the region, but Mehanata was the first I've ever come across.

A little geography lesson, because I needed one: Bulgaria is in southeast Europe, on the western shore of the Black Sea, with Romania to the north and Greece and Turkey to the south. It was part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years, and after a tempestuous 20th Century (Wikipedia), is now a democracy officially known as the Republic of Bulgaria.

The Mehanata restaurant seems to be open every day from 9am—its vast menu includes breakfast dishes—to either 1 or 2am.

We arrived around 2:00pm and found the outdoor patio to be fully-populated with diners (and smokers). So we went inside, where only one other table would be occupied during our visit.

The spacious interior was well-appointed in an Eastern European style, and the tables all featured bright red tablecloths.

With apparently just two waitresses working both the indoor and outdoor sections, service was a bit slow, but we were in no hurry and our server, Toni, was friendly and informative.

She helped Ed select a grape Bulgarian brandy (a.k.a. Rakia) called Slivenska Perla—he reported it had a good flavor—and provided entree recommendations as well. (Ken and I opted for Diet Pepsi as our beverage.)

In addition to having a vast selection of items in a variety of categories—"Sach" (clay pan dishes), "Chicken or Pork Specialties," "From the Grill," "Sandwiches" and more—the menu included a photo of every dish.

Per Toni's recommendation, Ed and Ken ordered a Pork Combo Grill and a Chicken & Pork Combo Grill, respectively.

I preferred the look of the Chorbadjiysky Sach (choice of pork or chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, pickles, mozzarella cheese & french fries cooked in a clay pan) and ordered it with Pork.

It was very good, although the portion was somewhat intimidatingly large. I wound up bringing home more than half of it home.

I might not get this exactly right, but Ed's Pork Grill Combo included a couple of pork cutlets, a pork kabob, a sausage strip (kebapche) and a coiled sausage link (karnache). Ken's Chicken & Pork combo included a chicken kabob along with several pork items. Both left with sizable take-home portions.

Part of the reason for that is also ordering an appetizer: Stuffed Peppers "Burek."

I'm familiar with the term "burek" as a Serbian/Bosnian food--usually with meat or spinach & cheese within something akin to a pastry shell--that I've had at exactly 3 places: Deta's Cafe in Rogers Park, Djerdan in New York (the Manhattan location I visited is now closed) and Three Brothers in Milwaukee.

As a breaded and fried red pepper stuffed with feta cheese, this Bulgarian burek was rather different than the others. And though two came as a single appetizer order--we were about to order a second appetizer before Toni assured us our entrees would be filling--between the three of us, hearty eaters all, we could only share one of the bureks.

But like our main dishes, it too was delicious.

Overall, it was a highly satisfying meal, and a pleasant place to leisurely hang out on Labor Day.

Ken declared Mehanata "excellent," and said he loved the "old European ambiance," while Ed offered that it was "more than I expected in more ways than one."

And though it may have seemed unnecessary, when Ed stepped outside for a smoke, Ken and I indulged our own vices as we each ordered Garash, a wonderful Bulgarian chocolate cake with some kind of wafer lacing.

Ed abstained from a dessert of his own, but he and Ken each got “long espressos."

Quite an abundant introduction to Bulgarian food. In fact, as I write this 6 days later, I can't help but feeling full once again.

But that's a good thing. As was our meal at Mehanata.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked Restaurant Mehanata and the delicious Bulgarian food that they prepare.Hope you'll visit it again!