820 W. Jackson
The cuisine of Cyprus reflects its history: mostly Greek, but influenced by Turkish, Persian, Venetian, Roman, and British invaders. "We use different spices like cumin and whole coriander seeds, but I can't tell you any more," says Costantinos Georgiou, executive chef at Greektown's VENUS MEZEDOPOLION, Chicago's first Cypriot restaurant. A few dishes on Venus's 15-course tasting menu resemble typical Greektown fare: the talatouri dip, made with thick, creamy homemade yogurt, cucumbers, and mint, is a lot like tzatziki, and the tender grilled marinated octopus, htapodi sti schara, is just like the version on Greek menus. But the pourgouri (cracked wheat with onions and tomatoes) reminds me of North African couscous dishes, and the syrupy baklava--filled with almonds and walnuts instead of the usual pistachios--is as Middle Eastern as the stuffed grape leaves and the hummus. A few items are uniquely Cypriot: there's afelia, tender cubed pork marinated in wine and seasoned with coriander, and halloumi, a firm, salty goat cheese that's baked and served in wedges inside a pita. The decor is Mediterranean kitsch: palm plants, green-shuttered window frames opening onto painted ocean views, and a bar made to look like an ancient Greek warship. The multicourse meals are served family style, three to four small dishes at a time ($30 per person for a meal with red meat, $35 for fish, or $38 for both), or you can order a la carte. The lunch menu is much simpler: there are pita sandwiches, grilled kebabs, salads, and a few pastas. The wine list highlights reds and whites from the Greek islands.
224 E. Ontario
EPPY'S DELI, a 25-seater in Streeterville below a street-level incense-and-crystals shop, calls its sandwiches overstuffed, but even that's an understatement: there's close to half a pound of corned beef, roast beef, turkey pastrami, or hard salami in each one. You can also get your sandwich stuffed with a homemade deli salad--chicken, tuna, whitefish, or egg--on your choice of conveyance: rye or marble rye bread, a bagel (they stock good, chewy ones from New York Bagel & Bialy in Skokie), or a lettuce leaf. Order a sandwich meal for $5.50-$7.95 (depending on the sandwich) and you get a fountain drink and two sides (choose from macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, chips, and fresh fruit). There's chicken soup year-round (you can ask for rice, noodles, or matzo balls in that), and four special soups every day. This winter they're running a deal called Temperature Soup: pay whatever the temperature is for a cup of soup with your sandwich. "If it's 58 degrees out, your soup costs 58 cents," says Eppy's owner Larry Epstein. "If it's three below, we'll give you three cents back." For dessert there are baked goods from Leonard's Bakery in Northbrook: giant decorated cookies, black-and-white shortbread, cheesecake, and cupcakes, along with Jewish favorites like rugelach and mandel bread.
Sticky Rice Thai
4018 N. Western
A quick glance at the regular English-language menu at STICKY RICE THAI would lead you to believe it's just another neighborhood Thai joint; there are pot stickers, shu mai, curry dishes, and pad thai. But ask for the special menu--the restaurant stocks copies of an excellent English-language translation by Erik M., a member of the foodie Web sites Chowhound.com and LTHForum.com--and you'll get a meal the likes of which you won't find anywhere else in the city. No other local place serves dishes like sai ua, a spicy homemade sausage redolent of Kaffir lime and lemongrass and garnished with sliced cabbage leaves and paper-thin sheets of ginger; or khao sawy, a coconut milk-based broth full of tender chicken strips, spools of soft egg noodles, and shredded pickled cabbage. Khai jiaw khai mot is a delicious, fluffy omelet filled with salty, squishy half-inch-long sacs of tiny black ant eggs, and rok deun are fried worms. Tam ma-muang plaa phon is an intriguing take on the more common som tum (green papaya salad), made with green mango and tossed with smoky dried-fish powder and vinegar. Most of the dishes cost about $7, so you can work your way through the menu, experimenting to excess. "I'm the only one in Chicago cooking this food," owner Kritsana Moungkeow says. "I love to cook, and that's all I want to do."
Other Recent Openings
Buongiorno Cafe, 1123 W. Grand, 312-829-7433. Italian coffeehouse serving breakfast and lunch.
Cafe Bordeaux and Crepes, 2932 N. Broadway, 773-327-6898. Former Abu Nawas chef Smail Aitali is now cooking French food at this cafe and creperie.
Chestnut Grill & Wine Bar, 200 E. Chestnut,
312-266-4500. Lezlie Keebler (Biggs) and Benny Siddu (Volare) have teamed up in the former Cantare space.
China Grill, 230 N. Michigan, 312-334-6700. Pan-Asian dining room in the Hard Rock Hotel.
The Couch, 2344 W. Grand, 312-942-9030. Breakfast-and-lunch spot in West Town.
Flaming Wok 'N Grill, 903 N. Halsted, 312-274-0599. A classic Chinese menu in a former diner.
Hecky's of Chicago, 1234 N. Halsted, 312-377-7427. City offshoot of the famous Evanston barbecue joint, with fast food including burgers, dogs, and Italian beef.
Humboldt Pie, 1001 N. California, 773-342-4743. Coffee shop serving salads, sandwiches, and pie.
Mama Kitty's, 1616 N. Kedzie, 773-235-4889. Breakfast and lunch in Humboldt Park.
Pie-Eyed Pizzeria, 1111 W. Chicago, 312-243-3735. A late-night destination for homemade pizza, near the Matchbox.
Samah, 3330 N. Clark, 773-248-4606. Middle Eastern lounge with belly dancers and hookahs.
Sushi Loop, 810 W. Jackson, 312-714-1234. Tiny Greektown sushi place with moderately priced lunch specials.
Banana Leaf, 3811 N. Southport; Fuse, 71 E. Wacker (temporary); Cantare, 200 E. Chestnut; Glory, 1952 N. Damen; Magnum's Steak and Lobster, 225 W. Ontario (closed for renovation); Palace of China, 4953 N. Broadway; Red Tomato, 3417 N. Southport (takeout is still available during renovation); Ronny's III, 340 S. Wabash; Stefani's, 1418 W. Fullerton; Urban Fridge, 2679 N. Lincoln; ZouZou, 1406 W. Belmont.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.