Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chicago Kosher Restaurants

Due to numerous compliments and popular demand of my "Kosher Restaurants in Miami" article, I have decided to create this posting for all the travelers to the Windy City and the surrounding areas in the event that you are looking for a kosher place to eat. Although Chicago has a decent number of both dairy and meat restaurants, the dining scene leaves much to be desired. Below, I have broken up the restaurants by neighborhood and posted commentaries as applicable to each particular venue.

Downtown/Loop Area:

MetroKlub (meat) - 733 W Madison Street, Chicago

the restaurant is located on the first floor of the Crown Plaza hotel and is accessible both from the hotel lobby and from the street. The location is definitely great for all of the people working downtown who once in awhile need to take colleagues out to lunch. The one thing to be aware of when you come in is that the restaurant is divided into two separate sections - one kosher and one not. I was not aware of this information upon my visit to Metroklub and assuming that the entire facility was kosher, I had just sat down wherever the hostess had placed me. My first clue about the different sections came when I read the words like "Pork Chops" and "Shrimp Alfredo" on the menu. At first I thought that these might be imitation dishes, which are similar to the imitation "crab" we buy at our local supermarkets. However, the descriptions of the menu items led be to believe that something was off. Following my instincts, I asked the hostess whether the restaurant was in fact kosher. Her response was: "Oh, you need the kosher section? It's right through here". In short, when you visit, make sure to ask for the kosher section. The service at the restaurant was surprisingly good, which for reasons unknown to me is a rarity in the kosher restaurant community. I wish I could say the same about the food. My meal wasn't bad, but for the amount of money I was charged, I definitely expected something better. Upon my server's recommendation, I ordered tomato soup and a grilled chicken sandwich. The soup was watery and over salted, and the chicken in my sandwich was kind of dry. A friend who accompanied me to lunch and who does not keep kosher, was not impressed her pasta and salad, although having tasted my selections, she mentioned that her meal was better. If I had to compare the I would like to attribute these imperfections to the Metroklub being relatively new and I sincerely hope that the next time I venture into the downtown area, the food quality will have improved.

Spertus Cafe by Wolfgang Puck (meat) - 610 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago

This is another relatively new establishment, which was created by Laura Frenkel, the former owner and chef of the popular Shallot's restaurant. The Spertus Cafe is more casual and informal then the Metroklub and is a good place to grab a salad, soup or sandwich if you are downtown in the area of the Magnificent Mile. It is located on the second floor of the Spertus Institute and has a modern cafeteria feel with minimalistic decor, large windows and high ceilings. Spertus Institute, which houses Spertus Cafe is also available for private functions, and although the prices are definitely on the expensive side, the quality of the food, and the beautiful views of downtown are worth it.

West Rogers Park/Devon Avenue Area:

Taboun Grill (meat) - 6339 N California Avenue

Call me biased, but I am yet to find another kosher restaurant in Chicago that has better food then Taboun. When it first opened five years ago, Taboun was surrounded by fierce competition from two other brand new restaurants - Ronnie's and Marrakesh. Today, out of the three, Taboun is the only one that is still in business and boasts a loyal following of locals and tourists alike. The restaurant has even been featured on "Check Please", a television show where local restaurants are reviewed by different visitors. Although I would not come to Taboun for a special occasion, it is a great place to come with your family or friends. The restaurant is child-friendly as is the menu. I can never say now to their Yemenite soup, chicken thigh or beef kebab, or the Moroccan fish. Really, everything I have tried there was good and with exception of an occasional rude bus boy, I really have no complaints. I am also thrilled to announce that Taboun is opening a new location at the intersection of Dempster Street and Gross Point Road in Skokie. I truly hope that the decor of the new venue will be better suited for celebrating special occasions, such as anniversaries, birthdays, etc. I also am a big fan of Taboun catering and have utilized their catering service for numerous events.

Tel Aviv Pizza (dairy) - 6349 N California Avenue, Chicago

What can I say about Tel Aviv? I prefer not to eat inside, but I will admit that their thin crust pizza is my favorite. I wish that the interior and the service were even remotely close to the deliciousness of the pizza. It has been my dream for the past sixteen years when I first learned about Tel Aviv's existence that they do something to make the restaurants a bit more appealing to the general public. However, either due to lack of interest or lack of understanding of what a restaurant should look like, the owners of this establishment have yet to make my dream become reality. I am also pretty sure that a sitcom based on customer service at Tel Aviv would become a huge hit. Here is how a typical conversation goes if you try to place an order at Tel Aviv:
(phone rings)
Tel Aviv: "Tel Aviv!!!!"
Caller: "Hi, I would like to place an order for pick up please"
Tel Aviv: "What do you want????"
Caller: "A medium cheese pizza"
Tel Aviv: "We don't do medium - small or large?"
Caller: " Large please"
Tel Aviv: "OK bye"
All of the above is accompanied by a very impatient tone of voice.
If you want to order additional items you may have to call back three or four times and repeat the whole conversation over again. But as I have mentioned before, I am willing to put up with the rudeness of the employees for the delicious greasiness of the pizza. Those who have insider information know that one can also order typical Israeli items such as a special Shakshuka, which are not on the regular restaurant menu. Overall, I love using Tel Aviv for things such as kid birthday parties or family pizza nights. Don't count on their delivery service though. Expect the delivery time to be approximately sixty minutes after what you were promised by the order-taker. If you are on a strict time schedule, you are definitely better off picking up your food.

Great Chicago Food and Beverage Company (meat) - 3149 W Devon Avenue, Chicago

What can I say about Great Chicago... I have to admit that although I prefer not to eat inside the restaurant, I am absolutely addicted to their hot dogs, popcorn chicken and shwarma. Oh, and the third-pounders. However, I am still cherishing the hope that one day the owners of this local grease spoon will one day get a face lift - Extreme Makeover "Restaurant Edition" anyone? Kids of all ages are very much welcome at Great Chicago and I have not once heard anyone complain about the noise levels, which works well for those of you who have young children. I also wish that they would switch their fountain soft drink vendors to Pepsi or Coke. Right now RC is all that you can get. One great thing about the place is that every year they put up a Sukkah during the Harvest Holidays so that people can eat on premises. They also open right after Pesach and remain open until late so that those who have been deprived of bread for a week can get their carb fix. Overall, if you want a meat meal in a pinch, it's a good place to stop by and pick something up.

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