Middle Eastern Nirvana in Bridgeview
I rarely get to go back to restaurants for a second or third time, due mostly to my schedule and constant – some would say frenetic – task of filing four stories per week for ABC 7. But every now and then I get to make a return visit, and it was with great pleasure I found myself near southwest suburban Bridgeview yesterday, allowing me to dive headfirst into the spreads, dips and kebabs at Al Bawadi Grill.
I was actually a couple of miles away earlier in the day, attending a soccer game for my son, which turned into watching the first half of the Fire – D.C. United soccer game. Luckily, the game started at 4 p.m., allowing us to bolt the chilly weather at halftime, and drive the two miles south to Bridgeview. Near the corner of 87th and Harlem – the heart of the Middle Eastern community – there are several strip malls promising groceries, pita bread and baba gannoush. But Al Bawadi stands alone, like a beacon of char-grilled awesomeness, emitting smoke throughout the afternoon. Even though we entered around 5:30 p.m., the place was already packed with families gobbling down silky hummus and tart pickles. You know how it’s always comforting to see ethnic Chinese when you walk into a dim sum parlor, or a couple of elderly Japanese chefs slicing toro behind the sushi bar? You get that same feeling at Al Bawadi, as you see doting mothers, covered in colorful hijab, feeding their kids mouthfuls of soft, fresh-from-the-oven pitas smeared with creamy, tahini-laced dips and tiny bites of sliced shawerma, straight from the spit.
Al Bawadi knows how to grill. On your way to the restroom to wash up before your meal, look to your right, and peer through the narrow kitchen window: the grill station works full-blast, blistering skewers of beef, chicken and kefta (ground beef) kebabs, while enormous vertical spits of chicken and beef shawerma turn slowly, evenly charring, while some dude who’s been cooking longer than I’ve been alive deftly slices off the bits of juicy protein and summarily layers them over two kinds of basmati rice, one simply colored yellow, the other laced with spices that lend a characteristic reddish hue and mild sting; the fluffy mound is crowned with slivers of toasted almonds for a little extra crunch.
If you happen to be in the area with your picky cousin who, for some reason, wouldn’t dare eat food this good (clearly, you’re not really related), take her next door to Lindy’s Gertie’s for a bowl of chili and an ice cream cone. Either way, you should also run across 87th Street to the strip mall housing The Nut House, one of my favorite places in the region to get Turkish Delight flavored with all manner of pistachios, rose water and hazelnuts. I’ll bet you anything that half the bag will be gone by the time you get home.